Steve McCurry's Afghan Girl up 258% in Nat Geo auction

The first ever auction of National Geographic's extraordinary archives was held at Christie's New York last night (December 6), with Steve McCurry's famed Afghan Girl starring with a dramatic increase on estimate.

McCurry Sharbat Gula Afghan Girl
Afghan Mona Lisa: the girl has since been identified as Sharbat Gula

McCurry's arresting cover photo for the National Geographic magazine made an outstanding 257.8% increase on its $50,000 high estimate, selling for $178,900 - a record for McCurry. It is perhaps the most iconic photograph in the 125 years since the organisation's foundation.

The National Geographic Society has amassed approximately 11.5m photographs and artefacts since its inception in 1892. The auction showcased just 240 pieces from its archives, with profits going towards its upkeep as well as benefitting young photographers, artists and explorers.

Steven McCurry's photograph was first published on the cover of the magazine in 1985 and has since become one of the most recognisable images in the world, often referred to as the "Afghan Mona Lisa".

Previous auction results meant that the piece was expected as a highlight of the auction from the outset, with a print of the famous photograph selling for almost double its $7,000 high estimate at $13,750 in May.

Wyeth Sabatini The Duel on the Beach
The Black Swan is Sabatini's swashbuckling adventure tale of pirates

Selling as the top lot of the auction was Newell Covers Wyeth's Duel on the Beach, which sold comfortably within its $800,000-1.2m estimate at $1m. The piece was originally commissioned by Carl G Fisher for Rafael Sabatini's article of the same name, which was published in the September 1931 issue of Ladies' Home Journal.

The painting was also later used as a dust-jacket illustration for Sabatini's famed adventure book, The Black Swan, which expanded on the article and was made into a film in 1942.

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