NEW YORK—Christie’s sale of photographs from the collection of Leon and Michaela Constantiner on Dec. 16–17 realized $7.7million. The auction offerings were heavily weighted toward high-fashion photography, including dozens of Helmut Newton nudes and images of Marilyn Monroe. Of the 318 lots, 281, or 88 percent, found buyers; by value, the auction was 93 percent sold, one of the highest sell-through rates in recent months.
Works by Newton dominated the top lots, and accounted for $3.95million, or more than half, of the auction total. The top lot was the artist’s four-panel gelatin silver print Sie Kommen, Paris (Naked and Dressed), Vogue Studios, 1981, which sold to a European buyer for $662,500, above its $400,000/600,000 estimate. The second-highest price of the sale was for Newton’s Big Nude III: Henrietta, 1980 (printed 1982), which sold for $482,500, toward the low end of the estimate of $400,000/600,000. Helmut Newton Portfolio, 1999, a group of 102 Polaroid, chromogenic and gelatin silver prints, fetched $374,500 on an estimate of $250,000/350,000.
Works by Irving Penn and Richard Avedon also figured among the top lots, though demand was somewhat uneven. Penn’s Black and White Vogue Cover, 1950 (printed 1976), featuring model Jean Patchett, sold for $194,500, under the low estimate of $200,000, while his Woman with Roses on her Arm (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), 1950 (printed 1979), sold for $170,500, within the estimate of $150,000/250,000.
Avedon’s print Stephanie Seymour, Model, New York City, 1992, sold for $182,500, just clearing the high estimate of $180,000 with premium included. And Avedon/Paris, 1978, a portfolio of eleven prints, brought $170,500 (estimate: $120,000/180,000) from a New York dealer.
Andy Warhol’s silk-screen ink and polymer on canvas One Grey Marilyn, 1986, from the “Reversal” series, fell far short of its estimate, bringing in $290,500 against an estimate of $400,000/600,000, indicating that reserves had been lowered before the sale. Still, the current price represents a sharp increase in value from the work’s prior appearance at Christie’s sale of contemporary art in October 1992. Estimated at $50,000/60,000 in that earlier sale, the work sold for $38,500, also below expectations.
Marilyn Monroe was also the subject of Bert Stern’s Marilyn Monroe, ‘The Last Sitting,’ 1962, a portfolio of 36 gelatin silver prints and 23 chromogenic prints, which sold for $146,500, near the high end of the $100,000/150,000 estimate.
Buyers showed resistance to lots for which estimates were considered too high, and to works that had been offered at auction too recently. For instance, Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1997, sold for $110,500, considerably below the $150,000 low estimate. The print had been offered for sale as recently as February 2007, at Phillips, de Pury & Company, where it brought $262,400—more than double the current price—against a $90,000/120,000 estimate.
Tom Kelley’s famous 1949 color photograph of a nude Marilyn Monroe against a red background sold for $18,750, clearing the $10,000/15,000 estimate. The image was featured in the premier issue of Playboy in 1953 as the magazine’s first “Sweetheart of the Month.”
But this latest price represented very little appreciation in value for the consignor: offered in 2003 at Christie’s “Playboy at 50: Selections from the Archive” sale, the same photograph had fetched $17,925 against an estimate of $8,000/10,000.