Market Snapshot: Bert Stern
Stern’s intimate, final photographs of Marilyn Monroe still seduce collectors.
In 1962—six weeks before Marilyn Monroe’s death—Bert Stern, a young fashion photographer on assignment for Vogue, shot over 2,500 photographs of the troubled star. This was done over the course of three days at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. The resulting “Last Sitting” photographs portray Monroe in vulnerable, unguarded moments: posing nude under white sheets, drinking champagne, and playing with her jewelry.
A half-century later, Stern’s photographs attract collectors at the high and low ends of the market. “Photographs of Marilyn Monroe draw collectors of all types, from those who collect memorabilia to those who are looking for a truly unique piece for the center of their collection,” dealer Andrew Weiss told artnet News. “Bert Stern’s ‘Last Sitting’ entails such a range that it can cover all of these desires.”
In September 2013, a 10-photograph portfolio made from Stern’s original negatives fetched $41,250 at Freeman’s Auctioneers in Philadelphia, more than double the $15,000 high estimate. “The result from the Freeman’s auction is not surprising to me,” Weiss explained, “especially as it is very difficult to find portfolios still intact.”
While Stern’s auction record remains the 2008 sale of a portfolio of 59 Marilyn prints for $146,500, individual photographs typically hammer for less than $5,000. “The private market,” said Weiss, “is equally varied.
As Stern shot hundreds of images that day, of course, there will be some images that speak to collectors more than others.” According to Weiss, Here’s to You, depicting a bare-shouldered Monroe holding a champagne coupe, has always been the most popular: “What more could you ask for than the premier icon of Hollywood glamour toasting you?”
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