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Photo Sales Reflect a Market Rising ‘Up and Up’

Buoyed by several focused collections from single owners and the growing strength of the market for postwar photography, the spring photo auctions in New York achieved high totals. All told, Sotheby’s realized $15.9 million in its three April sales; Christie’s, $11.2 million in three sales; and Phillips, de Pury and Company, $10.4 million in two

NEW YORK—Buoyed by several focused collections from single owners and the growing strength of the market for postwar photography, the spring photo auctions in New York achieved high totals. All told, Sotheby’s realized $15.9 million in its three April sales; Christie’s, $11.2 million in three sales; and Phillips, de Pury and Company, $10.4 million in two sales. Christie’s also had held photo sales in February that achieved $5.56 million (ANL, 3/6/07), bringing its total so far this year to $16.7 million.

The strongest results came from Sotheby’s $7.8 million sale on April 25-26 of the private collection of Margaret W. Weston, founder-owner of the Weston Gallery, Carmel, Calif.; and Christie’s $2.5 million sale on April 23 of pictures by Horst P. Horst (1906-99) that had been consigned by Gert Elfering, a German collector who acquired the photographer’s full archive after his death.

Commenting on the sales, New York dealer Alan Klotz told ARTnewsletter, “I wondered whether with nine catalogues and after a very, very healthy AIPAD [the April 12-15 annual show of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers], there was enough money out there, but the market just seems to be going up and up.”

Klotz notes that while sales were high for later prints by Horst, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, prices also were high for rare prints of strong images by earlier photographers, particularly when combined with a provenance from a well-known collection. “There will always be a flow back and forth” between various time periods, says Klotz, adding that the strength of the postwar work that was often printed in large multiples will “sort itself out” as collectors begin to “parse out the market.”

Of 54 Horst images at Christie’s, 50, or 93 percent, fell for a total of $2.5 million. The top lot set an auction record—$288,000 for a large-scale Mainbocher Corset, Paris, 1939, printed in the late 1980s or early ’90s on canvas. This eclipsed the Horst record set in fall 2005, when a vintage “master print” of the same image, also consigned by Elfering, sold at Christie’s for $216,000.

The Margaret Weston sale was 80 percent sold through as 112 of 140 lots found buyers. The top lot was a 9-by-7-inch platinum print of Edward Weston’s The Ascent of Attic Angles, 1921, which set an artist’s auction record when it sold for $824,000 (estimate: $700,000/1 million) to a private collector. Margaret Weston, who was married to Edward Weston’s son Cole Weston from 1963-74, opened her gallery a year later; she acquired the photograph at Sotheby Parke Bernet for $2,500 in May 1979.

The Weston auction saw four more auction records among the top ten lots: $492,000, for Carleton Watkins’ The Garrison, Columbia River (estimate: $200,000/300,000), which fell to New York gallerist Hans P. Kraus, Jr.; $348,000, for Imogen Cunningham’s Amphitheatre No. 2 (estimate: $200,000/300,000); $312,000, for a Frantisek Drtikol nude, Snezna Vlna (Snow Wave), estimated at $60,000/90,000; and $252,000, for Jaromir Funke’s Composition (Abstraction with Plates), more than seven times the high estimate of $35,000.

Records Set for Cuvelier Père and Fils

Among other tightly focused sales this spring, Sotheby’s April 13 sale of works by 19th-

century French artist Adalbert Cuvelier and his son Eugène Cuvelier saw all 41 lots sold, for a $2.9 million total, and set records for both Adalbert ($240,000) and Eugène ($288,000).

Parisian dealer Serge Plantureux acquired three of the top ten lots; other buyers included the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and Kraus. All top lots exceeded estimates by wide margins, and the auction as a whole sailed nearly $800,000 over its high estimate of $2.1 million.

Rounding out the specialized sales, a Christie’s auction on April 23 of 30 modernist photographs, consigned by an English collector, was 70 percent sold through by lot, for a total of $1.27 million. The top image there was a László Moholy-Nagy abstract cityscape from the late 1920s, Rothenburg (estimate: $80,000/120,000), which fetched $264,000.

Phillips held an evening sale on April 24 of 27 images before a general-owner sale the next day. Billed as a group of “exceptional photographs,” it saw 19 of the lots, or 70 percent, realize a total of $3.6 million. The top lot was Edward Steichen’s 1924 portrait, Gloria Swanson, which came from the estate of Philippe Halsman and had been published in Vanity Fair in 1928. It earned $540,000, against estimates of $250,000/350,000.

Two disparate lots in the top ten at the selective Phillips sale greatly exceeded their estimates, selling for $312,000 each—Transform (Lipstick), a 1990 collage of color photographs and vinyl paint by John Baldessari (estimate: $100,000/150,000), from the collection of French businessman and art patron Alain Dominique Perrin; and Sokolniki Park, Winter, Hockey, a 1929 silver print by Russian modernist Alexander Rodchenko (estimate: $90,000/120,000).

In the general-owner sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips, prices again were strong for Weston as well as for postwar photographers. The Sotheby’s various-owners sale on April 26 was 92 percent sold through for a $5.2 million total, including a vintage print of Weston’s Nude on Sand that flew above the high estimate of $300,000 to win $468,000 from San Francisco dealer Jeffrey Fraenkel.

Three lots by Penn figured in the top ten at Sotheby’s. The highest price was $336,000, paid for Woman in a Moroccan Palace, 1951, printed in 1983. Three days earlier, another print of Woman in a Moroccan Palace, also printed in 1983, took the top price at Christie’s evening sale on April 23; it brought $396,000 (estimate: $250,000/350,000), an artist’s record, and was sold to an American collector.

Also at Sotheby’s, Penn’s Cigarette No. 37, sold for $204,000 (estimate: $120,000/180,000) to New York’s Pace/MacGill Gallery. And a 1979 print of Girl Drinking, 1949, an image of a model drinking champagne that appeared in a 1949 issue of Vogue, fetched $180,000 (estimate: $80,000/120,000).

Avedon’s Richard Wheatcroft, Rancher, Jordan, Montana, a rare diptych from Avedon’s book In the American West, sold for $192,000, more than twice the $90,000 high estimate.

Christie’s larger general sale on April 23-24 was 78 percent sold through for a $7.4 million total. The second-highest price after the Penn record was given for Helmut Newton’s Private Property, 1984, three suites, each of 15 gelatin silver prints (estimate: $250,000/350,000).

Works by Avedon figured prominently here too: Minneapolis, 1970, a group of 11 prints, sold for $240,000 (estimate: $50,000/70,000); the same price was realized for Fashion, 1978, another group of 11 prints (estimate: $30,000/50,000).

The Phillips general-owners sale on April 25, which included 92 lots consigned by Perrin, realized $6.8 million and was 83 percent sold through by lot. Here, too, the top lot was by Penn—a 1979 platinum-palladium print of the 1950 image Harlequin Dress. The work brought $384,000 against an estimate of $200,000/250,000.

Yet another image by Penn, Woman with Roses, 1950, took $324,000 (estimate: $150,000/200,000). A Rayograph with a floral bouquet motif by Man Ray fetched $312,000 (estimate: $150,000/200,000). Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Still #20, 1978, also from Perrin’s collection, more than doubled expectations when it sold for $132,000.

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