Posted April 12, 2011 by Jean Dykstra
The weather still felt a bit wintry, but the spring photography auctions suggested that a new season might be upon us. The sales had lower buy-in rates than we’ve been seeing (under 20 percent for most) and totals surpassing the firms' estimates. Sotheby’s kicked off the season on April 6 with a successful general-owners sale totaling $5,632,187, and a buy-in rate of 18.8 percent. Jaromir Funke’s abstract Composition, 1929, set a record for the artist at auction, selling for $350,500, far above the $70,000 high estimate. Mathew Brady’s portrait of politician John C. Calhoun, from 1849, sold for $338,500, also above the high estimate of $50,000. Two Man Ray images sold in the top ten: Untitled (Photomontage with Nude and Studio Lamp), 1933, was the top lot, bringing a whopping $410,500, and Solarized Male Torso, 1936, sold for $122,500.
On a side note, Sotheby's announced in February that it has made Paris its European center for photographs and decorative arts. Sotheby's won't hold photo sales in London, but the firm will hold bi-annual sales in Paris in May and in November, to coincide with Paris Photo and capitalize on the active market for photography in Paris. The department is headed by Simone Klein, who joined the firm in 2007.
Christie’s had three photography sales in April: Part I of the Consolidated Freightways collection, which focuses on American photography, was sold on April 7; 130 lots were offered, and the buy-in rate was 15 percent. The top lot was Robert Mapplethorpe’s Flag, 1987, which brought $158,500. That same day, a private collection went on the block, in a sale dubbed "The Feminine Ideal;" it brought a total of $942,125, with 18 percent of the 79 lots sold. Given that the sale focused on female beauty, it was no surprise that the top three lots were by Irving Penn, or that two of them should feature Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn. Balenciaga Mantle Coat, Paris, 1950, sold for $80,500, and Woman with Umbrella (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), New York, 1950, brought $60,000. Penn’s photographs, reliable favorites in the marketplace, were also top sellers in the general-owners photographs sale on April 8, with Bee on Lips, New York, September 22, 1995, selling for $182,500. Twentieth-century masters such as Avedon, Eggleston, Penn, and Frank were well represented in the top lots, with Avedon’s Marilyn Monroe, New York, May 6, 1957, bringing $482,500, and Eggleston’s iconic Memphis (Tricycle), c. 1969-1970, selling for $266,500
On April 9, Phillips de Pury and Company held its first photography sale in its new digs at 450 Park Avenue. The sale offered 260 lots, and totaled $5,802,250, with a slim 9.6 percent buy-in rate. Phillips’s chief auctioneer, Simon de Pury, held a Photographs Aficionado Class before the auction, and he conducted the sale as well. The top ten list included such contemporary works as Cindy Sherman’s Oriental-themed Untitled #278, which sold for $242,500. Dutch photographer Desiree Dolron’s Xteriors VI, referencing the history of Flemish portraiture, brought $194,500, well above its high estimate of $60,000. Peter Beard’s Tsavo North on the Athi Tiva, circa 150 lbs, - 160 lbs, side Bull Elephant, February, sold for $120,100. And Florian Maier-Aichen’s contemporary take on the Sublime, Untitled, 2005, brought $104,500.
Two weeks earlier, photobooks, photographic albums, and historical and 20th-century photographs sold well Swann Galleries on March 24. The total was $1,037,574, with a 20 percent buy-in rate. Adam Clark Vroman’s album Arizona and New Mexico, Volume II, with more than 165 platinum prints of Native Americans, from 1897, sold for $62,400, a record for the photographer at auction and Alfred Eisenstaedt’s Children at Puppet Theatre, Paris, 1963, printed 1991, brought $48,000, the top price for an individual photograph at the sale.