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Mid-Market Photo Sales Draw New and Seasoned Buyers

Christie’s held two photograph sales on Dec. 19.

NEW YORK—Christie’s held two photograph sales on Dec. 19. The first was a various-owner sale that realized $680,250 for 145 lots, surpassing the presale estimate “in excess of $525,000.” Of these, 117, or 81 percent, were sold. By value, the sale realized 91 percent.

The second sale, “Crossing America,” consisted of photos from the corporate collection of transportation company Consolidated Freightways and realized a total of $505,063, clearing presale expectations of more than $300,000. This marked Christie’s second offering of works from the company’s collection. The first, held last spring, realized $1.8 million (ANL, 4/19/11). Of 156 lots offered, 137, or 88 percent, were sold. By value, the sale realized 97 percent.

Photography department head Deborah Bell said, “both sales were met with strong international participation, demonstrating the continuous growth of the global demand for this category.” Bell went on to say that the robust results of the Consolidated Freightways collection demonstrate “the powerful appeal of the American landscape as encompassed by this coveted corporate collection.”

The top lot in the various-owner sale was Man Ray’s Untitled, ca. 1935, a silver gelatin print of a woman in side profile. It sold for $27,500, compared with an estimate of $5,000/7,000.

It was followed by Ansel Adams’s Winter Sunrise from Lone Pine, Sierra Nevada, ca. 1944 (printed in the 1970s), which sold for $21,250, compared with an estimate of $20,000/30,000. The same price was realized for Arthur Rothstein’s Dust Storm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma, 1939, though that was considerably higher than the $5,000/7,000 estimate.

The same price of $21,250 was given for Irving Penn’s The Spilled Cream, 1980 (printed in 1981), compared with an estimate of $12,000/18,000, as well as for Sandy Skoglund’s Fox Games, 1989, a dye-bleach print with a $6,000/8,000 estimate. Margaret Bourke-White’s Ladle B, Otis Steel Mill, Cleveland, 1930, realized $13,750, falling within the $10,000/15,000 estimate.

The Consolidated Freightways collection was assembled with the idea of showing how the American landscape looks from the cab of a truck. Many of the works carried estimates under $10,000, but bidding drove prices on many of the lots far higher.

The top lot was James Van der Zee’s Untitled (West 127th Street, Harlem), 1932, which sold for a record $52,500, well above its $7,000/9,000 estimate, followed by Aaron Siskind’s print Untitled–from “Harlem Document,” 1936, which sold for $15,000 on an estimate of $2,000/3,000. A set of three prints by Alma Lavenson, Industrial abstractions, 1930–1933, sold for $13,750, compared with an estimate of $1,500/2,500. The three top lots were bought by U.S. dealers, according to Christie’s.

Diane Arbus’s Woman by a lampost, N.Y.C., 1963 (printed later by Neil Selkirk), sold for $10,625 (estimate: $3,000/5,000). Lee Friedlander’s Milton, Vermont, 1975, sold for $7,500 on an estimate of $2,500/3,500, and Walker Evans’s Sidewalk in Mississippi, 1936, realized $6,875, compared with an estimate of $2,500/3,500.

Paul Strand’s Church on a Hill, New England, 1945 (printed later), sold for $6,250, compared with an estimate of $2,500/3,500.

Strong Prices at Swann Sale

A number of lots well exceeded their estimates at the Swann Galleries sale of photographs and photobooks held on Dec. 13. These included Andrew Russell’s album of 107 Civil War-era photographs, “United States Military Rail Road,” 1863–64, which realized $156,000, more than double the $50,000/75,000 estimate.

Edwin Hale Lincoln’s four-volume “Wild Flowers of New England,” 1910–14, with 400 photographic plates, sold for $108,000, compared with an estimate of $40,000/60,000, while Siskind’s portfolio of 18 abstract photographs “Viterbo Broom,” 1967, sold for $48,000, compared with an estimate of $25,000/35,000.

Manuel Alvarez Bravo’s book of photographs “Fotografias,” 1945, sold for $43,200, on an estimate of $18,000/22,000, and Peter Beard’s Fayel Tall/El Molo Bay, Lake Rudolf, 1987 (printed in 1997), sold for $36,000, compared with an estimate of $20,000/30,000.

Other unexpectedly high prices were seen for works including an album, “Mongolian Expedition,” 1936, which consisted of photographs taken by Eric Sinclaire Purdon and sold for $15,600, compared with an estimate of $900/1,200.

Elliott Erwitt’s Provence, 1955 (printed in 2011), sold for $14,400, compared with an estimate of $3,500/4,500, while a 1928 album of 23 photographs of Kairouan, Tunisia, including several portraits, by Consuelo Kanaga, sold for $11,400, compared with an estimate of $3,000/4,500.

In all, the sale earned $1 million, falling below the presale estimate of $1.1 million/1.6 million, a result attributable to the high number of unsold lots. Of the 353 lots up for auction, 214 were sold. However, most of the buy-ins were of medium- or lower-priced consignments.

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