A Princess of Mars (1970) is one of Frank Frazetta's most famous works. He painted it for the 1970 hardcover edition of Edgar Rice Burroughs' first John Carter of Mars novel. Interestingly, Frazetta feared the publisher wouldn't return the art so he painted a copy for himself. The copy is generally thought to be superior to the version he created for the book cover. It sold this week at Heritage Auctions for $1.2 million.
"Frank Frazetta always felt that his art transcended genres," said Nadia and Joe Mannarino, who head Heritage Auctions' East Coast Comic Books and Original Comic Art category.
"The trick was making a living, providing for his family, while being able to retain his originals until the day that they realized their full potential," said the Mannarinos, who, in the 1980s, began representing Frazetta. "The solution: work for publishers, be paid for the image and have the art returned. Hence, Frazetta would not produce a work unless the art was returned. This resulted in Frazetta and his family making numerous sacrifices. It is gratifying to see Frank and [his late wife] Ellie's confidence and their family benefiting from the sacrifices they made."
The painting, of beautiful people on faraway planets in fantastic settings, was one of two Frazetta made for cover of Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars, which Doubleday republished as hardback in 1970. Frazetta sent the first take to the publisher, and was so enamored and proud of the piece he immediately began painting another for his own collection, which remained with the family following his death in 2010. It was clear how much Frazetta adored the piece because of the small details included in the second version not visible in the first. Friends and family said Frazetta liked the second painting better than the one filling fantasy readers' bookshelves.
Said Heritage Auctions' Vice President Barry Sandoval. "This is the rare case when the second version is even better than the published one."
It had been clear since the painting's posting last month there was tremendous interest: The Princess of Mars opened the morning of August 20 near the $30,000 mark, and by that day's end, bids had already jumped past $100,000. And the night before the auction, it sat near $612,000. When the sun rose on Sept. 1, the bid had increased by another $300,000.
More than 600 people tracked the piece as it made its way to the finish line.
The Princess of Mars, which features John Carter brandishing a sword above his head and Dejah Thoris alongside him, is the fourth Frazetta piece sold by Heritage Auctions in the last four years to top the million-dollar mark. It's also the highest price realized for one of the painter's pieces since his 1974 cover to the At The Earth's Core paperback sold for $1,075,500 in August 2016.
The Princess of Mars' sale price reflects its iconic stature as the piece upon which Tom Jung modeled the first Star Wars poster — the one with Luke Skywalker wielding a lightsaber, Princess Leia at his knee, Darth Vader and the Death Star looming behind them. Countless science fiction and fantasy artists built their careers echoing the piece Frazetta painted for the world and repainted for himself.