Snapshot of a Vibrant Market
October 13, 2011 | Source: Monroe Gallery of PhotographyCOURTESY OF SOTHEBY'S
NEW YORK—Fall photography sales fell roughly in line with totals seen last year as collectors continue to emphasize top-quality works by blue chip artists from across the spectrum of 19th to 20th century, vintage works to modern and contemporary prints. The total at Phillips de Pury & Company, Sotheby’s and Christie’s sales from Oct. 4-6 was $17.5 million, compared with $17.4 million realized last year.
Phillips accounted for $6.9 million of that total, an improvement on last year’s total of just under $4 million, while Sotheby’s realized $4.7 million, as compared with $4.97 million last year. Christie’s total was $5.8 million, compared with $8.5 million achieved last year. In addition to its various owner sale on Oct. 6, Christie’s held a separate single-owner auction, titled “The American Landscape,” featuring black and white photographs from the collection of Bruce and Nancy Berman on Oct. 7. The sale realized $1 million, compared with an estimate of $900,000/1.3 million.
Phillips opened the series on Oct. 4, with a regular various-owner sale as well as a special offering of works from an unidentified private collection, titled “The Arc of Photography,” that collectively took in $6.9 million compared with an estimate of $4.5 million/6.5 million.
Both sales were heavy with established names such as Richard Avedon, Man Ray, Irving Penn, Alfred Stieglitz and Robert Mapplethorpe. Of 272 lots on offer, 224 lots, or 82 percent, were sold. By value, the sale realized 91 percent.
The top lot was Avedon’s portfolio of The Beatles, 1967, which sold for $722,500 compared with an estimate of $350,000/450,000.The second-highest price was paid for a work from the private collection by Nadar (Gaspard-Félix) and Adrien Tournachon, Pierrot with Fruit, 1854-55. It brought a record $542,500 compared with an estimate of $150,000/200,000.
Man Ray’s Untitled (Self-portrait of Man Ray), 1933, sold for $398,500 compared with an estimate of $80,000/120,000 while Penn’s Black and White Vogue Cover (Jean Patchett), New York, 1950, sold for $374,500.
Stieglitz’s portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe, 1935, also featured in the top prices, selling for $146,500, and falling within the $120,000/180,000 estimate. Among more contemporary works, Candida Höfer’s Handelingenkamer Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal Den Haag III, 2004, sold for $104,500 compared with an estimate of $50,000/70,000, while Mapplethorpe’s Calla Lily, 1987, sold for $86,500, clearing the $50,000/70,000 estimate.
Vanessa Kramer, worldwide director of photographs at Phillips, said the results “mirror the strength of the photographs market across the spectrum as well as the increase in demand for the highest caliber of works,” adding that the sales “speak of the steadfast growth of the field.”
Sotheby’s sale on Oct. 5 saw solid results with the house posting a total of $4.7 million, falling within the $3.6 million/5.5 million estimate. Of 193 lots offered, 138 (or 72 percent) were sold.
The top lot was a complete set of Camera Work: A Photographic Quarterly, a journal that was published by Stieglitz from 1903-17. Estimated at $200,000/250,000, the set sold for $398,500 to Christian Keesee, according to Christie’s.
The sale posted two artist records: for Pierre Dubreuil, when his oil print, The First Round, ca. 1932, sold for $314,500 compared with an estimate of $150,000/250,000; and for Alexander Gardner et alii when the sketchbook, Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War, sold for $158,500 on an estimate of $70,000/100,000. In the top lots, Gardner’s Portrait of Abraham Lincoln, 1863, sold for $98,500 on an estimate of $30,000/50,000.
Christopher Mahoney, senior vice president of Sotheby’s photographs department said that the wide range of material in the top lots “demonstrates the richness and depth of the market.”
Chelsea dealer Bruce Silverstein was listed as the buyer of Alvin Langdon Coburn’s gum-platinum print, The Cloud, 1906, which was estimated at $20,000/30,000 but sold for three times that, at $92,500.
At Christie’s sale on Oct. 6, 294 lots were offered and 214, or 73 percent, were sold. By value, the auction realized 83 percent.
Deborah Bell, Christie’s specialist head of the photo department, said the sale “offered a wide range of photographs that stimulated active bidding across all categories. The top-two prices achieved for works by Ansel Adams and Vik Muniz demonstrate the strength and sweeping diversity of the market for photographs.”
The top price was $242,500 for a group of works by Adams titled Clearing Storm, Sonoma County Hills, 1951, made up of five gelatin silver print enlargements, flush-mounted on plywood. It was estimated at $200,000/300,000.
It was followed by Muniz’s The Best of Life, 1989-1995, ten gelatin silver prints of iconic historical images from Life magazine, which sold for $170,500 clearing the $80,000/120,000 estimate.
Two other lots by Adams figured in the top ten, with both selling to U.S. dealers. These included: Surf Sequence, A-E, 1940, five gelatin silver prints printed in the 1960s, that sold for $170,500 against an estimate of $100,000/150,000; and Aspens, Northern New Mexico, 1958, a gelatin silver mural print, printed in 1965-1968.
A mixed-media gelatin print by Peter Beard, Bull Eland Passing Elephants Digging Water, near Kathamula Tsavo, North, for The End of the Game, February 1965, sold for $158,500 (estimate: $80,000/120,000).
Work by Robert Frank also figured prominently in the auction’s top lots. The highest of these was London, 1951, a gelatin silver print, printed late 1970s, which sold for $116,500 on an estimate of $90,000/120,000. Two other works by Frank took $98,500 each, against estimates of $100,000/150,000, including Charleston, S.C., 1956, a gelatin silver print, printed ca. 1970, and Fourth of July-Jay, New York, 1956, a gelatin silver print also printed ca. 1970.
William Eggleston’s Sumner, Mississippi, ca. 1970, a dye-transfer print, printed 2001, sold for $104,500 on an estimate of $30,000/50,000, and Frantisek Drtikol’s Svítání, 1928-1929, a flush-mounted pigment print, also sold for $104,500 on an estimate of $40,000/60,000.
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