ARTnewsletter Archive

Ansel Adams Leads at Midseason Photography Sales

Swann Galleries’ auction of photographs on Dec. 8 took in a total of $1.1 million (including buyer’s premium), selling 276 lots, or 66 percent, of the 421 on offer.

NEW YORK—Swann Galleries’ auction of photographs on Dec. 8 took in a total of $1.1 million (including buyer’s premium), selling 276 lots, or 66 percent, of the 421 on offer. The total missed the overall estimate of $1.3 million/1.8 million.

Two prints of Ansel Adams’s Moonrise, Her­nandez, New Mexico, 1941, were the top lots in the sale, although the prices were widely divergent. A print from 1948, seven years after Adams took the photograph, was estimated for $350,000/450,000 and sold for $360,000, while a print of the same image produced in the early 1960s was estimated at $30,000/40,000 and sold for $48,000, illustrating the value accorded a vintage print, one produced within a few years of the creation of a negative.

Other top lots in the sale included a group of 36 black-and-white prints by Walker Evans from the series “American Photographs,” dating from 1929 through 1971, which sold for $19,200 against an estimate of $5,000/7,500, and a 1995 print of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s Premier at La Scala, Milan, 1933, which sold for $16,800, within the estimate of $12,000/18,000.

Daile Kaplan, vice-president and director of photographs at Swann, said the distinctions between vintage and nonvintage prints “is becoming more important now than ever, because those early prints are getting scarcer and scarcer.”

Christie’s midseason sale of photographs in New York on Dec. 7 was an up-and-down affair, with many strong prices—some considerably exceeding estimates—falling alongside many unsold works.

The sale brought in a total of $966,750, at the low end of the $950,000/1.4 million estimate, with 139, or 72 percent, of the 189 lots finding buyers.

Most of the lots in this sale were moderately priced, with estimates well below $10,000, even at the high end. Philippe Garner, Christie’s international head of photographs, said the auction was aimed at “newcomers to the field with varying depths of pocket.”

The first lot of the sale was a posthumous print of one of Edward Weston’s most renowned images, Nude, 1936, made by the artist’s son Cole. It sold for $6,875 (estimate: $7,000/9,000). The highest price paid at auction for a print produced by Edward Weston of that image is $260,000, paid at Sotheby’s in 2003. Other black-and-white nudes produced by the artist have sold for prices in the $300,000/400,000 range, and a 1925 nude sold at Sotheby’s last year for a record price of $1.6 million. Prices for prints produced by Weston’s sons have been on the rise, Garner noted, because “it’s still a way of getting a print that Edward Weston would approve of.”

Two lots by Adams were the top sellers at Christie’s: Portfolio Four, 1963, a set of signed 15 black-and-white prints, sold for $60,000, within the $50,000/70,000 estimate, and Photographs of Yosemite, a set of 18 black-and-white prints from the 1960s, brought $40,000 on an estimate of $20,000/30,000. Joel-Peter Witkin’s black-and-white Still Life, Marseilles, 1992, also did well, fetching $21,250 against a $8,000/12,000 estimate.

Prices for a number of photographs were similarly higher than the auctioneer had estimated, including Jacques-Henri Lartigue’s Grand Prix de l’A.C.F., Automobile Delage, 1912, which sold for $12,500 (estimate: $4,000/6,000), and Robert Mapplethorpe’s Three Roses in a Vase, 1983, from his “Flowers” series, which sold for $10,625 (estimate: $4,000/6,000).

Ten photogravures from Alfred Stieglitz’s Camera Work, 1907–17, fetched $16,250 (estimate: $6,000/8,000), and a set of ten black-and-white Photographieren, 1999, by Sarah Moon sold for $21,250 on an estimate of $10,000/15,000.

Among the major unsold lots were Grab von Lu Xun, Shanghai Express, 1997, a color image by Thomas Struth (estimate: $20,000/30,000), and Chessmen, ca. 1945, a black-and-white work by Man Ray estimated at $8,000/12,000.