Hoarded art by 'quirky' collector could net millions

Hoarded art by 'quirky' collector could net millions
Heritage Auction Galleries vice president Ed Jaster talks about the Charles Martignette Estate art pieces hung on the walls.
DALLAS (AP) - Charles Martignette's love of illustration art had largely gone unseen, an incredible collection tucked away in storage rooms and a sprawling warehouse before his death.

But as auctioneers prepare for an expected $20 million sale, thousands of pieces of art - from scantily clad pinup girls to wholesome works by Norman Rockwell - will come out of the dust.

Martignette's roughly 4,300 pieces of art will be up for bidding during a series of auctions at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas beginning Wednesday, just more than a year after he died at age 57. Auctions will continue over the next two years with some pieces expected to draw tens of thousands of dollars each.

"He was at the very forefront of collecting this type of material. He was very quirky, very eccentric, but he was also very clever. What he ended up with was the very best examples," said Edward Jaster, Heritage's vice president.

Martignette collected art, often oil paintings, that was transformed by printers to illustrate everything from the covers of magazines like the Saturday Evening Post to calendars and paperback books. Much of his collection came from the "golden age" of art illustration, roughly the 1910s through the 1950s.

Among the highest valued pieces is Joseph Christian Leyendecker's oil painting of a soldier recounting his war story for two children. It became a Saturday Evening Post cover in 1919, and is expected to sell for $50,000 to $70,000.

Gil Elvgren's 1962 painting of a woman smiling sweetly as she poses on a bearskin rug in a black lace negligee could woo between $30,000 and $40,000. A Dean Cornwell oil painting depicting a sea captain and his crew inspecting a treasure became a Cosmopolitan illustration and could fetch $40,000 to $60,000.

"What Charles hoarded away was the best," Jaster said. Todd Hignite, consignment director at Heritage, added: "It's no exaggeration to say this is the most important collection of illustration art ever to be offered."

Friends paint Martignette - often with the word "character" - as a relentless art hunter, night owl and thrift store shopper. A photograph from the 1980s shows him in his home, clad in leather pants with a chain around his neck, paintings hanging from floor to ceiling behind him.

Martignette grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Hallandale, Fla., as an adult and began collecting illustration art in the 1970s. Not many others were seeking out the art at the time, but Martignette was relentless in trying to find it.

"He was like a private investigator. He would do genealogy research and track down family members," said Jim Halperin, co-chairman of Heritage who first met Martignette at a coin show when they were teenagers.

Martignette spent his entire life dealing in art, selling off lesser pieces to finance bigger purchases. Despite the value of his collection, he lived modestly and bought clothes at thrift stores, said friend and business partner Louis K. Meisel.

"He was as cheap as anybody you ever met," said Meisel, who has an art gallery in New York City and negotiate