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Vintage Prints Retake Catbird Seat At $29M New York Photo Sales

Photography sales at four auction houses held up strongly in New York from Oct. 15-17, with vintage prints by 20th-century photographers returning to prominence in a market dominated by more recent editorial photography.

NEW YORK—Photography sales at four auction houses held up strongly in New York from Oct. 15-17, with vintage prints by 20th-century photographers returning to prominence in a market dominated by more recent editorial photography.

Overall, Sotheby’s sales totaled $12.7 million and were 86 percent sold by lot in the various-owners’ auction. The total includes a sale of mostly modernist photographs from the collection of Nancy Richardson that was 88 percent sold through and achieved $1.8 million. Records were set in the Richardson sale for Frederick Sommer ($85,000) and Aaron Siskind ($73,000).

Christie’s three sales combined for a $9.8 million total, and were 71 percent sold through in the general sale; 65 percent in the sale of portraits of artists collected by Rex, Inc., a New England private equity company; and 92 percent for the “important American collection” that included a record-breaking $623,400 image by Robert Frank, Trolley, New Orleans, 1955.

Over at Phillips, de Pury & Company, on Oct. 17, some 78 percent of 243 lots sold through for a $4.3 million total. Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto’s large-scale, black-and-white image depicting the Villa Savoye, 1998, in France, designed by modernist architect Le Corbusier, was the top lot at $336,000, nearly twice the high estimate of $180,000

And at Swann Auction Galleries on Oct. 15, a photography sale realized $2.09 million. About half this figure, $1.04 million, was produced by a partial set of Edward S. Curtis’ 16-volume photogravure portfolios titled “The North American Indian,” marking the first time the smaller auction house had achieved a million dollars for a lot at auction.

New York dealer Peter MacGill told ARTnewsletter, “I can’t say there was the exuberance that was driving New York in the spring. But I think business is good, and there’s a lot of pressure at the top end of the market. Because some significant prices have been had, more material is coming out.”

Weston Image Fetches Record $1.1M at Sotheby’s

The top single-item lot of the week was an early print of Edward Weston’s Nautilus, which the Pace/MacGill Gallery bought at Sotheby’s on Oct. 15 for a record $1.1 million (estimate: $600,000/900,000).

Said MacGill: “Every once in a while you see a truly great thing.” He noted that around 1930, Weston switched from matte paper to a glossy paper that produced crisper prints. (A cross-section image of a nautilus shell by Weston, printed in his later style, sold in the Sotheby’s sale for $253,000, more than double the high estimate.) “Both were extraordinary prints—one is just rarer than the other,” said MacGill.

Five images by Weston, in addition to his record-breaking Nautilus, featured in the top ten lots of the Sotheby’s various-owners sale, and all but one of these jumped above estimates.

In the Sotheby’s general sale, records were set for Imogen Cunningham, whose early print of the still life Tower of Jewels achieved an above-estimate $361,000; and for Peter Beard, whose large study of a nude feeding a giraffe, Hog Ranch Front Lawn, Night Feeder (2:00 am) with Maureen Gallagher & Mbuno, Feb. 1987, fetched $277,000.

Frank Print Leads at Christie’s

At Christie’s the top lot was Frank’s Trolley, New Orleans, a print the photographer had made for a mockup of his groundbreaking book The Americans; it fell to Pace/MacGill for $623,400, more than twice the high estimate of $250,000.

Among other highlights: A circa 1950 print of Dorothea Lange’s White Angel Breadline, San Francisco, 1933, flew above its $60,000 high estimate to achieve $103,000. (At Sotheby’s the same image, which the auction house said “may be the earliest extant print,” had sold within estimates at $445,000.)

Other highlights in the Christie’s sale included Diane Arbus’ A Jewish Giant at Home with His Parents, 1967 (printed circa 1970-71), which sold within estimates for $421,000. A set of 20 large-scale albumen prints from Carleton E. Watkins’ 1861 series “Selected Images of Yosemite” fell below estimates for $241,000. The Watkins pictures had been given by the photographer to his patron and were being deaccessioned by the Park-McCullough House in North Bennington, Vt., where they had been since the 19th century.

The top lots in Christie’s general sale also included above-estimate results for Irving Penn, Edward Steichen’s image of Auguste Rodin’s Thinker, a Neil Selkirk print of Arbus’ Child with a Toy Hand Grenade, a Robert Mapplethorpe calla lily and an Edward S. Curtis platinum print, The Three Chiefs, Blackfoot, Montana, 1900.

In the Rex, Inc., sale, Cindy Sherman’s Untitled (Film Still #22), 1978, exceeded the $80,000/120,000 estimate, going to an American collector for $205,000.

Sherman Fashion Print Scores at Phillips

At Phillips all top ten lots met or surpassed their high estimates. In the wake of the top-selling $336,000 Sugimoto print came a Sherman color-coupler print that had been commissioned in 1993 by Harper’s Bazaar magazine and the fashion line Comme des Garçons for an advertising campaign—it doubled the high estimate to sell for $300,000. Other highlights: Penn’s minimalist 1992 silver-gelatin print The Hand of Miles Davis, 1986, fetched $102,000 against a high estimate of $85,000.