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Prices for Newton Images Rise Along with His Growing Cachet

Awareness and recognition of the work of Helmut Newton (1920-2004) have climbed over the past decade among collectors of contemporary photography and art, but it is in recent years that prices have jumped dramatically.

NEW YORK—Awareness and recognition of the work of Helmut Newton (1920-2004) have climbed over the past decade among collectors of contemporary photography and art, but it is in recent years that prices have jumped dramatically.

“A complete reassessment has taken place over the past five to 10 years,” says Simon de Pury, chairman of auction house Phillips de Pury & Company and co-owner of Zurich’s Galerie de Pury & Luxembourg, which jointly represents the estate of Newton with another Zurich gallery, Galerie Andrea Caratsch. “His work was shunned by critics both in the art world and in the commercial art field,” de Pury told ARTnewsletter.

Along with esteem, prices for the photographer’s work have risen. “In 1999 I took over his representation,” Andrea Caratsch told ARTnewsletter, “and immediately raised his prices from $1,000/5,000 to $30,000, where they should have been.” Caratsch is a member of the board of the Helmut Newton Foundation, Zurich, which operates a museum of Newton’s work in Berlin. “Slowly but surely,” Caratsch notes, “the prices have gone up and up.”

Prices for Newton’s work range widely, from $6,000 for small (10-by-12-inch) fashion images to more than $600,000 for life-size images of nude women. A variety of factors determines the price, including the degree to which a particular image is “iconic”—the size of the edition, the size of the print, whether the work was signed by Newton or stamped by his estate, and whether the picture is a black-and-white gelatin silver print or a Polaroid.

In rough categories, Caratsch says, prices for fashion images from the 1970s (“the heyday” of those images) run from $30,000/250,000, while pictures from the “Big Nudes” series cost $250,000/600,000 and up. Newton also created a number of landscapes, Caratsch points out, that “may appeal less” to collectors who associate him with erotic images of women, priced from $50,000/200,000. Prints from his paparazzi-inspired series “Yellow Press,” focusing on accident and murder victims—“very difficult material,” Caratsch says—range from $10,000/ $30,000.

Two large (47-by-63-inch) versions of one of Newton’s more iconic works, a 1973 black-and-white portrait of a nude Charlotte Rampling sitting on a table in a hotel in Arles, were sold this past July for $350,000 apiece by New York’s Staley-Wise Gallery, according to owner Etheleen Staley. The buyers were both private collectors, one from the United States and the other a European. Staley declined to divulge the prices she had originally paid for the photographs or when she had purchased them. She noted, however, that shortly after Newton’s death, “a buyer contacted me, offering $120,000” for one of the prints, “but I decided to hold on to it.”

The Polaroids, 2-by-2 inches and 2-by-3 inches, were used primarily as test shots for lighting and composition but occasionally were treated by Newton as artworks in themselves. They are priced from $5,000/15,000, according to dealer Howard Greenberg who says, “I acquired a whole bunch of them and have been selling them at art fairs.” The differences in prices reflect “the degree of nudity, sexiness, eroticism.”

Newton’s widow, June Newton, oversees the foundation and has established a policy of not permitting any new images to be printed from the numerous surviving negatives.

The estate holds “more than 1,000 images produced during his lifetime,” Caratsch says, although he did not give an exact number. Images from the estate are periodically released for sale, although the dealer reported that most of his sales are from work on the secondary market. Another 1,500-1,800 images were bequeathed by Newton to the Berlin museum of the Helmut Newton Foundation, which opened shortly after the photographer died in a 2004 car accident.

Siting the museum in Berlin was particularly meaningful for Newton, who had been born there in 1920, the son of a German-Jewish button factory owner and his American wife.

His fashion photography for publications such as Elle and Vogue was notable for sadomasochistic poses. A heart attack in 1970 slowed down his commercial work, and slowly he reoriented his focus in a fine-art direction. Caratsch identifies the market for Newton’s work as the period from 1970-2003.

Numerous photographs by Newton have appeared in public sales, the majority of them within the past five years. The top auction price to date is the $380,725 given last May at Christie’s London for the 1980 Big Nude III, Paris, which generously exceeded the auction house’s $158,635/237,953 estimate.

Other top auction prices include: $313,167 (estimate: $141,093/211,640) for another Big Nude III, Paris, at Christie’s London in 2005; and $214,158 (estimate: $99,147/138,806) for the 1989 Panoramic Nude with Gun at Christie’s London last May.