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Rare Works Fuel Surge in Fall Photo Sales

Fall photography auctions at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips de Pury & Company took in a total of $17.4 million in sales held Oct. 6–8, compared with $10.5 million last fall (ANL, 10/20/09).

NEW YORK—Fall photography auctions at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips de Pury & Company took in a total of $17.4 million in sales held Oct. 6–8, compared with $10.5 million last fall (ANL, 10/20/09). Sotheby’s Oct. 6 sale realized a total of $4.97 million, up from $3.75 million last year, for 264 lots offered. Of these, 198, or 75 percent, were sold. By value the auction realized 83 percent.

Christie’s realized just under $8.5 million in two days of sales. Photograph auctions on Oct.6–7 brought a total of $5.6 million while a sale of daguerreotypes by Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey, billed as “A Historic Photographic Grand Tour,” raised $2.9 million. Phillips’s sale on Oct. 8 brought just under $4 million.

The top lot at Sotheby’s was a print by Robert Frank, En Route to Del Rio, Texas, 1955, printed ca. 1970, which sold for $266,500 (estimate: $80,000/120,000). It was followed, at $170,500, by a mixed-media work by Man Ray, Still Life Composition With Chess Set, Plaster Casts and ‘Á L’Heure de L’Observatoire–Les Amoureux’ 1935–36 (estimate: $50,000/70,000). Edward Steichen’s ‘Wind Fire’ Thérèse Duncan, Acropolis, 1921, a palladium print, sold within estimate for $146,500 (estimate: $120,000/180,000), and Irving Penn’s Cigarette No. 69 (In Four Parts), 1972, printed Nov. 1977, brought $134,500 (estimate:$100,000/150,000).

The same price was paid for a portfolio of 11 dye-transfer prints by William Eggleston, “Graceland,” 1983, printed in 1984, and estimated at $80,000/120,000.

Sotheby’s senior vice president for photography, Christopher Mahoney, said the sale “proves there is strong desire in the marketplace for truly rare photographs that are fresh to the market. . . .We were gratified to see work by photographers as diverse as Robert Frank, Man Ray, Edward Steichen, and Manuel Álvarez Bravo, among many others, soar past their estimates.”

The house claimed a new auction record for Robert Adams, when Colorado Springs, 1969, sold for $86,500, far surpassing the $15,000/25,000 estimate.

Looking forward, Mahoney said, the challenge is “to continue to source exceptional photographs for sophisticated and selective collectors.”

The top lot at Christie’s was a gelatin silver print by Ansel Adams, Grand Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942 (printed 1960s), which exceeded the $150,000/250,000 estimate to sell for $338,500 to a U.S. buyer. The second highest price was $176,500 (estimate: $100,000/150,000), paid for Penn’s dye-transfer print Mouth, 1986, printed 1992. Of 349 lots offered, 263, or 75 percent were sold. By value the auction realized 82 percent.

The top price for a daguerreotype was $242,500 paid for Prangey’s study of plants 261. Paris. 1841. Etude de plantes., which was estimated at $140,000/160,000. A self-portrait daguerreotype by the artist, ca. 1841, sold for $194,500, far exceeding the $30,000/50,000 estimate.

Matthieu Humery, head of the sale, said, “Prangey’s work not only depicts the period that he lived in, it is transcendent and relevant today. Collectors are fascinated by Prangey’s documented journeys to Syria, Jerusalem and Greece.” Of 74 lots offered, 58, or 78 percent, found buyers. By value the auction was 88 percent sold.

Penn Portrait of Picasso Tops Phillips

Phillips’s top lot was Penn’s platinum-palladium portrait of Pablo Picasso, 1957 (printed 1978), which sold for $182,500 (estimate: $80,000/120,000). And Richard Avedon’s portrait of Brigitte Bardot, 1959, sold for $170,500, just above the $100,000/150,000 estimate. Of 409 lots on offer, 254, or 62 percent, were sold. By value the Phillips sale realized 78 percent.

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