ARTnewsletter Archive

Contemporary Images Dominate Fall Photo Sales

With an early print of an iconic landscape by Ansel Adams (1902-84) and an elaborately mounted portrait by Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989), each exceeding half a million dollars, the fall photo sales in Manhattan, from Oct. 17-19, held up strongly.

NEW YORK—With an early print of an iconic landscape by Ansel Adams (1902-84) and an elaborately mounted portrait by Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989), each exceeding half a million dollars, the fall photo sales in Manhattan, from Oct. 17-19, held up strongly.

The Christie’s overall take of $7.6 million, with 79 percent of 354 lots selling through, was a record for a various-owners photo sale, the auction house reports. Sotheby’s totaled $6.5 million, on an 81 percent sell-through rate. And Phillips, de Pury and Company realized $4.5 million, with a 75 percent sell- through rate. A Swann Auction Galleries sale of 19th- and 20th-century photographs on Oct. 19 totaled $1.5 million, with 76 percent of 352 lots finding buyers.

Some totals were down from last fall when Sotheby’s sales took $10.3 million and Christie’s, $14.5 million. Phillips was a notch above last year’s $4.4 million total. “The season seemed to be lacking the superstar images that we’ve seen come at auction recently,” Chelsea dealer Bruce Silverstein told ARTnewsletter, adding that the lower total yield for the sales when compared to last year was a “function of less high-quality material being available.” He noted that while “many of the newer collectors are more focused on names—more ‘famous’ names, including names from the fashion industry,” he was able to find bargains in the sales, including work by Aaron Siskind, “some rare Edward Westons,” Harry Callahan and a few Walker Evans pieces that “went quite low.” Silverstein added, “Many people don’t realize it but it is a buyers’ market for vintage work, because there’s so much focus on the contemporary high-flying pieces that there are masterpieces available.”

The Adams work—a 1948 print of the photograph Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941—more than doubled its high estimate of $250,000 when it fetched $609,600 at Sotheby’s, on Oct. 17, from Hamiltons Galleries, a London dealer acting on behalf of a private client. The price generously surpassed a $352,000 auction record for Adams, set at Sotheby’s last spring, and nearly quadrupled the previous high price of $136,000 paid for a print of the Moonrise image at Sotheby’s in 2002. The record-breaking print came from the collection of Pirkle Jones, an Adams friend and colleague.

Mapplethorpe’s Andy Warhol, a large platinum-on-linen print in a cruciform frame designed by the photographer, also set a record and outstripped its $300,000 high estimate when it brought $643,200 at Christie’s, on Oct. 17, from a private collector. The image, made in 1987 shortly before Warhol’s death, had been in a private collection since its first exhibition at the Robert Miller Gallery later the same year.

In photography sales at Phillips, de Pury and Company, held Oct. 18-19, the top lot was a portfolio called “Troubled Waters”—consisting of 15 dye-transfer prints by William Eggleston (b. 1939)—which sold for $216,000 against estimates of $90,000/120,000. Two other lots by Eggleston—Summer, Mississippi, Cassidy Bayou in background, 1971 (estimate: $25,000/35,000); and Graceland, 1984 (estimate: $100,000/150/000)—also sold in the top ten at Phillips, each for $114,000. Two of his images landed among the top ten at Christie’s as well: Memphis, a circa 1970 image of a tricycle printed in 1980 (estimate: $140,000/180,000), which made $156,000; and “Election Eve,” 1977, two large folio volumes containing 100 chromogenic prints, which nailed the top estimate of $120,000.

Prices were particularly strong for works byIrving Penn (b. 1917), including two images in the top ten at Christie’s—Black and White Vogue Cover, 1950, printed in 1968, which made a mid-estimate $262,400; and Picasso (B), 1957, printed in 1985, which fell for a mid-estimate $108,000. Three of his images also were in the top ten at Sotheby’s, all going to collectors: Harlequin Dress

(Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), 1950, printed in 1979, which sold for a mid-estimate $240,000; Woman with Roses (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), 1950, printed in 1977, which took $204,000, surpassing its $150,000 high estimate; and Black and White Vogue Cover (Jean Patchett), 1950, printed in 1976, which won $192,000.
Penn Market ‘Very Deep’

“The Penn market is very deep,” New York dealer Howard Greenberg told ARTnewsletter. With Penn’s best-known fashion images, he says, there had been a “bit of a pause at the very top and a coming up of a lot of other very good images.” The market is having a “harder time getting that important vintage masterpiece,” he adds, “and the contemporary fills in the gap where the supply is plentiful and there is a large demand in the market for those big names.”

A 1983 portfolio of gelatin silver prints by Danny Lyon (b. 1942), “Conversations with the Dead, 1967-1968,” set an auction record at Christie’s when it made $114,000 (estimate: $40,000-$60,000). At Phillips a large-scale color-coupler print by German artist Thomas Ruff (b. 1958), Nude Vol 18, 2002, won $132,000, nearly tripling the $45,000 high estimate; and Ruff’s abstract inkjet print Substrat 5 II, 2002, fell for $96,000 (estimate: $70,000/90,000).
Record for Frank at Sotheby’s

Among more established photography masters, an auction record was set at Sotheby’s for Robert Frank (b. 1924),with a 1977 print of his image New Orleans (Trolley), 1955, selling for $204,000 (estimate: $80,000/120,000). Also at Sotheby’s, a daguerreotype by William Abbott Pratt (1818-79), Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe, sold for $150,000, triple the high estimate of $50,000.

Christie’s had 18 albumen prints by the 19th-century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) that were being sold without reserve from the collection of Gary and Barbara Hansen. All but three sold below their estimates.

At Sotheby’s a set of two Surrealist portfolios by Herbert Bayer (1900-85)—“10 Fotomontagen, 1929-1936,” and “10 Fotoplastiken, 1932-1936”—won $76,800 against estimates of $20,000/30,000; and a ferrotyped image by Dora Maar (1909-97), Study for Petrole Hahn, 1935, achieved $93,600 against estimates of $20,000/30,000.

“What’s interesting,” New York dealer Laurence Miller told ARTnewsletter, “is that an Adams Moonrise, for which we know there are over a thousand prints, would sell for $600,000.” He notes that the 1948 print, while “not truly vintage,” is “beautiful,” with strong provenance.

Observing that “works from the 1960s and ’70s are now on the rise,” Miller points as an example to a portfolio by Garry Winogrand (1928-84), “Women Are Beautiful,” an edition of 80 prints and 20 artist’s proofs that sold at Sotheby’s for $98,400 to the Rose Gallery, Santa Monica (estimate: $60,000/90,000). N.Y.C., an early 1968 print of the image used as the cover for the same Winogrand series, also sold at Sotheby’s—for $74,400, against an estimate of $20,000/$30,000.

At Swann the top lot was an album of George N. Barnard’s “Photographic Views of Sherman’s Campaign,”1865,with 61 photographs. The lot took a record $108,000.

Daile Kaplan, Swann’s vice president and director of photographs, says the sale was characterized by “robust bidding,” adding that “many new buyers were in attendance and record prices were set.”