PARIS—At Christie’s on Nov. 20, a sale of photographs by Richard Avedon (1923–2004) met with enormous success, with all of the work finding buyers and two images setting records for the artist. The 65 lots under the gavel came from the Richard Avedon Foundation, and represented the largest ensemble of works by the famed portrait and fashion photographer ever to hit the market.
The auction fetched a total of €5.5 million ($7.5 million) against an estimate of €3 million/5 million and was 100 percent sold by lot and by value. According to Christie’s, the buyers were 57 percent European and 42 percent American.
The top price was for the well-known Dovima with elephants, Evening dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, August 1955, a large-scale print made in 1978 and used in that year’s Avedon retrospective organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The photograph sold to fashion house Maison Christian Dior for €841,000 ($1.15 million), more than doubling its low estimate (€400,000/600,000) and setting a new auction record for the artist. The print, the largest example of the work in existence, had graced the entrance to Avedon’s New York studio for 25 years, and after his death was hung inside the entrance to the Richard Avedon Foundation offices.
Matthieu Humery, specialist and head of photography sales at Christie’s in Paris, said, “It is the most expensive photograph of this kind to have been sold in France.” Humery also noted, “until about a dozen years ago, fashion photography was not recognized; it was thought to be just illustrative and commercial; Avedon’s photos brought something else, they serve ideas.”
The second-highest lot of the evening was the multicolored Beatles Portfolio, London, England, 8-11-67, printed 1990, a rare set of four psychedelic dye-transfer portraits of John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. It sold for €445,000 ($610,095) against an estimate of €250,000/350,000, now the second-highest price for a photograph by the artist at auction.
The fourth-highest lot was a 1992 photograph, printed 1997, of former supermodel Stephanie Seymour in New York, wearing a provocative, see-through dress; it sold for ç265,000 ($362,989), more than doubling its low estimate (€120,000/180,000).
Highlights also included Avedon’s iconic 1957 portrait of Marilyn Monroe, a vintage (pre-1960) print that fetched €169,000 ($231,699) doubling its low estimate (€80,000/120,000). A triptych of large prints featuring Andy Warhol and members of the Factory, 1969, the original, unique prototype of three prints on panels, together measuring 76.3 x 293.7 centimeters (30 x 115.5 inches), sold for more than triple its low estimate (€80,000/120,000), bringing €301,000 ($412,671). A fashion shot entitled Suzy Parker and Robin Tattersall, Dress by Dior, Place de la Concorde, Paris, August 1956, printed 2002, fetched €217,000 ($297,507), nearly ten times its low estimate (€25,000/35,000).
Among other notable Avedon portraits up for auction were his image of Warhol’s scarred torso, taken in New York on August 20, 1969, printed 1993, which sold for €169,000 ($231,699) against an estimate of €80,000/120,000; pictures from “The Family,” a series commissioned by Rolling Stone magazine in 1976 to chronicle the presidential campaign during the American bicentennial.
Other works included portraits of artists and stars such as Brigitte Bardot, Samuel Beckett, Nastassja Kinski (with a boa constrictor), Bob Dylan, Rudolf Nureyev (nude), Chet Baker, Marcel Duchamp and Buster Keaton.
Proceeds from the auction will go toward an endowment to be developed by the foundation to support philanthropic activities.