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Jean Harlows Bearskin Rug Negative Commands $57,500 at Auction

How to Make Hollywood Portraits

Jean Harlow, Bearskin Rug © Epstein&Schwimer

At the Profiles in History Auction held on March 26 and 27 in Calabasas, California, the bearskin rug portrait camera negative of actress Jean Harlow (1911-1937) sold for $57,500. Shot by George Hurrell, while a resident photographer at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, for the January 1935 issue of Vanity Fair.

This famous image of Jean Harlow was shot by Hurrell on October 18, 1934, at the home Harlow shared with her mother at 214 S. Beverly Glen Boulevard in Beverly Hills. The catalog incorrectly noted that the photo session occurred one month after the suicide (author’s italics) of her husband, Paul Bern. For the Vanity Fair shoot only contact prints were made, and no enlargements were printed at the time of the negative.

The bear rug photo was Hurrell’s first assignment for Vanity Fair and would become his most important Hollywood portrait. Other actresses would request a bearskin rug at their photo shoots, so Hurrell had to go out and purchase one.

The black-and-white 10″ x 8″ camera negative on nitrate Kodak film brought the highest realized bid for a single camera negative. Although this negative had a cropping paper remnant on the lower emulsion border, it was otherwise in very fine condition. One can only imagine how many glamour photos the winning bidder might produce from this negative and sell for whatever amount the market will bear.

A 48″ x 36″ gelatin silver matte double-weight (on 8-ply foam board mount) print of this bear rug portrait with Hurrell’s signature and Portfolio I edition number 38/60 in ink on the bottom left corner, a 1979-82 printing example, in excellent condition, brought a price of $16,100.

The majority of the 1337 lots of vintage Hollywood photography at the auction were gallery portraits and portfolio camera negatives from the collection of Michael H. Epstein and Scott E. Schwimer.

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2 Responses to “Jean Harlows Bearskin Rug Negative Commands $57,500 at Auction”
  1. Deborah Amazonb says:

    I have a thick poster of this 36″x111″……………is it worht somehting?

  2. Jill says:

    Wow! Glad people recognize the value of these negs. A question – isn’t nitrate difficult to store properly? Seems like I remember reading something to that effect. When they auctioned off Mary Pickford’s dresses, some of the buyers just threw them in the washer and after destroying them wanted their money back. So I hope the buyer of Hurrell’s gorgeous negative knows his archival storage techniques! Thanks for the article!

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