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Strong Photo Sales Reflect Soaring Values Overall

Christie’s two-day series of photography auctions here in mid-February brought a total of $5.56 million. The sale of more than 300 photographs from the collection of Thomas F. Solley (1924-2006) on Feb. 14 realized $4.3 million, exceeding estimates and setting several new artists’ records. Christie’s various-owners sale of photographs the next day brought $1.2 million

NEW YORK—Christie’s two-day series of photography auctions here in mid-February brought a total of $5.56 million. The sale of more than 300 photographs from the collection of Thomas F. Solley (1924-2006) on Feb. 14 realized $4.3 million, exceeding estimates and setting several new artists’ records. Christie’s various-owners sale of photographs the next day brought $1.2 million for 290 lots offered. Of those, 211, or 73 percent, were sold. Over at Swann Galleries, an auction of 100 photographs on Feb. 14 fetched $928,901.

The top three lots of the Solley collection, which was heavily weighted toward fashion photography, all set artists’ records. God, 1918, a Morton Schamberg photo of a Dada sculpture, soared past the $5,000/7,000 estimate to realize $390,000. Close behind was El Lissitzky’s Portrait of Kurt Schwitters, 1924, which took $252,000, far surpassing the $6,000/9,000 estimate. Italy, 1933, by Henri Cartier-Bresson, quadrupled the $60,000 high estimate to bring $204,000 from an American dealer. Nonetheless, it was the European dealers who were particularly active in bidding for the top lots.

Christie’s specialists Philippe Garner and Joshua Holdeman, international directors of the photographs department, reported “wide international participation.” Works by modern masters the likes of Richard Avedon, Cartier-Bresson, Helmut Newton and Irving Penn “attracted consistently lively competition,” the specialists said.

Photography Market Continues to Broaden

“It’s no longer vintage or nothing,” New York gallerist Bruce Silverstein, of Silverstein Photography, told ARTnewsletter. “The market for collecting photography is so broad that there is incredible interest, not just for the vintage prints but also for later prints by well-known artists. As an example, prices for later prints by Cartier-Bresson and André Kertész have doubled, even tripled, in the last few years.”

Silverstein says that “the fashion photography market is on fire.” However, he suggests, at least some of those rising prices may be “an indication of a rampant lack of connoisseurship.”

Other works from the Solley collection that flew past estimates included two Edward Steichen gelatin prints: Flatiron Building, Evening, 1905 (printed circa 1960), which fetched $144,000 (estimate: $40,000/60,000); and View into 40th Str. to West from Steichen’s Studio, 1933, which won $96,000, leaving its $40,000/60,000 estimate way behind.

Irving Penn’s Vogue, Fashion Photograph (Café in Lima, Peru), 1948, fell for $132,000 (estimate: $20,000/30,000); and his Woman with Roses (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), 1950, took $90,000 (estimate: $25,000/35,000).

The various-owners sale of photographs at Christie’s on Feb. 15 yielded more modest prices, but several of the top lots did surpass their estimates. Penn’s Hat, New York, 1960, went to a European dealer for $60,000, quadruple the $15,000 high estimate.

Two works by Ansel Adams also figured among the highest lots: Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941, earned a mid-estimate $42,000; and Basin Peak and the Buttermilk Country Road, ca. 1940, took $26,400, well over the estimated $4,000/6,000.

Kertész Picture Leads at Swann

At Swann Galleries’ Feb. 14 sale, the top lot was Kertész’s Behind the Hotel de Ville, a circa 1930s print that a dealer won for $60,000 (estimate: $15,000/25,000). Twenty-five issues of Camera Work also earned the low estimate of $60,000. The issues were dated from 1903-08 and from 1912-13.

Observes Daile Kaplan, vice president and director of the photographs division at Swann: “The results of the sale demonstrate the strength of the classical photography market and the robust interest in photographic literature as well.”

Cartier-Bresson’s Valencia, a 1933 image printed in the 1960s, realized $33,600, well over the estimated $7,000/10,000. Noting the later printing date, Kaplan says, “That is part of this new trend where the print quality is drawing sophisticated clients to a particular photograph.”

Other highlights of the sale: Tina Modotti’s Demonstrations by campesinos, Mexico, ca. 1928, took $21,600 (estimate: $10,000/15,000); Margaret Bourke-White’s Standard Oil of Ohio, circa the 1930s, sold for $19,200 (estimate: $6,000/9,000); and Lewis Hine’s Empire State Building (steelworker with Central Park in the background), 1930, went for $10,800 (estimate: $7,000/$10,000).

Noting the strength of prices for Bourke-White and Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Kaplan comments, “These are photographers who have been underappreciated for so long.” Of the Hine sale, Kaplan says she is “delighted to see the market paying attention to his work again.”

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