RICHARD AVEDON (American, 1923-2004)
The Beatles Portfolio: John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and Paul McCartney, musicians, London, 1967
Four dye transfer prints, printed 1990
Each 21 5/8 by 17 3/8 in. (54.9 by 44.1 cm.)
Each signed and numbered '1/6' in ink in the margin
Each signed, numbered '1/6' in pencil, copyright credit reproduction limitation
Title, date and medium stamps on the verso
Accompanied by the original linen clamshell portfolio case
Pre-sale est.: $350,000-$450,000
Price realized: $722,500
PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., N.Y.: "Photographs", NY040211
Oct. 4, 2011
Lot #56

2011 Fall Photography Auctions in New York

By Brian Appel


The scarcity of high-quality material and a flight to rare, prime properties were indeed symptomatic of the shaky, “post-recession” photography auction market this fall.
 

Totals shrank from just under $20 million last spring to $17.4 million this October. Sotheby’s dropped to $4.8 million from $5.6 million and Christie’s followed suit taking a leap backward with a $2.3 million retreat landing at $5.8 million. Phillips de Pury & Co. was the only bright spot of the season. Vanessa Kramer, Shlomi Rabi and Caroline Deck managed an increase of $1.1 million from last spring totaling just under $7 million with a per lot average of $31,073. That’s a healthy gain of $6,400 per lot from last season and was enough to put them in front of the other two houses in terms of gross sales—a first for the house. Phillips’s average price per lot almost doubled that of Christie’s whose Bruce and Nancy Berman collection—“The American Landscape”—dragged their totals down precipitously. The Berman’s sale, the house’s fifth, final and weakest from the couple, brought a modest $7,208 per lot average.

Phillips de Pury & Co.
In 1967, with the release of “Sargeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”—the biggest selling studio album of the 1960s—Richard Avedon was called upon by the Beatles company “Nems” to photograph the “Fab Four” at the peak of the band’s global popularity and enormous commercial success. What resulted was “The Beatles Portfolio”, a combination of simple documentary realism wedded together with a dizzying number of somersault-like artistic transformations including solarization and a psychedelic adorning over each of the four portraits. Printed on sumptuous dye transfer prints which “… ensured that the poignant magnetism of the performers would be captured at its most quintessential” (lot notes, #56, auction cat. “Photographs” NY040211), the images became symbols for the hippie counterculture movement, psychoactive drugs, sexual freedom and creative expression in the “Summer of Love.”

All four images immediately became a delivery system not only as a publicity vehicle for the most important pop band of the 1960s but also functioned as a stand-in for a particular lifestyle that perpetuated the value systems deemed as most appropriate for that moment in time.

Each of the four 21 5/8 inch by 17 3/8 inch portraits came from an edition of six (‘1/6’) printed in 1990 and were accompanied with the original linen clamshell portfolio case. Estimated to sell between $350,000 and $450,000, the myth-making portfolio photographed in London in 1967 of John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and Paul McCartney reached $722,500 for the consignor making it the second highest price achieved at auction for the artist (number one was the $1,151,976 paid for the largest known print—7 by 5 ½ foot— of the artist’s famous “Dovima with Elephants, Evening Dress by Dior, Cirque d’ Hiver, Paris” that sold in Paris at Christies on November 20, 2010). “The Beatles Portfolio” was the top lot at Phillips and of the entire fall photographic season (see the “Top 10” below).

Boxed sets of the Beatles dye-transfer print portfolio have sold twice in the past six years at auction at Christie’s. Portfolio ‘3/6’ was snapped up for $464,000 on October 10th, 2005 in New York and portfolio ‘2/6’ sold in Paris on Nov. 20th, 2010 for $609,547. Kelly Devine Thomas from the “Wall Street Journal” reported that another color dye-transfer “Beatles Portfolio” was sold by Jeffrey Fraenkel from the Fraenkel gallery in San Francisco for $850,000 in 2008, but since it was a private as opposed to a public (auction) transaction, it is impossible to verify. Either way, “The Beatles Portfolio” seems an excellent way for high income earners to secure an “alternative asset allocation” despite the fact that the rise in fashion and celebrity photography has only recently become accepted into the realm of the collectable ‘fine art’ photographic arena.

Why this is so is a deeply perplexing phenomenon but fashion and celebrity have always been to a great extent about vanity and perhaps the marketplace is loath to admit that vanity is a fundamental thing for people. The question, however, remains what will happen to “The Beatles Portfolio” when the ‘60s generation is gone? Will the work endure and continue to accrue value?

We may have our answer by looking back at one of the pioneers of photography more than 150 years ago today.

NADAR (GASPARD-FELIX) & ADRIEN TOURNACHON (1820-1910) & (1825-1903)
Pierrot with Fruit, 1854-1855
Salt print
11 1/4 by 8 1/8 in. (28.6 by 20.6 cm.)
Signed "Nadar Jne" in ink by Adrien Tournachon, signed and inscribed with a small drawing by Charles Deburau, the French mime, to his collaborator Negrillier, in ink on the recto
Pre-sale est.: $150,000-$200,000
Price realized: $542,500
PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., N.Y.: "The Arc of Photography", NY040311
Oct. 4, 2011
Lot #221
Illustration courtesy PHILLIPS de PURY & CO. IMAGES LTD., 2011


Celebrities flocked in droves to be photographed by Gaspard-Felix Tournachon a.k.a. Nadar. He became the go-to photographer for all the prominent profile individuals who commanded a great deal of fascination and influence in the media of that time not only because he made them look good, he also made them feel good. Nadar shot such notables as the illustrator Gustave Dore, engineer and architect Gustave Eiffel, poet Charles Baudelaire, the painter Eugene Delacroix, composers Claude Debussy and Franz Liszt, science fiction writer Charles Verne and stage and film actress Sarah Bernhardt among a slew of other VIP’s of the time.

Portraits at that time tended to be largely dictated by the standards of 19th century portrait painting coupled with the limitations of the early camera. But the photographer, who had gained notoriety as an accomplished writer and caricaturist before he ever picked up the camera, had a swift tact that put him in communion with the model. Nadar could size up the sitter, grasp his habits and ideas in accordance with his character which allowed him to render the sitter not as an indifferent plastic reproduction that could be made by the lowest laboratory worker, but almost as if the sitter were being observed over time by a psychoanalyst. As Nadar himself stated: “it’s the psychological side of photography—the word doesn’t seem overly ambitious to me.”

Critics have suggested that his keenly honed camera eye came from his successful career as a satirical cartoonist in which the identifying characteristic of a subject was reduced to a distinct facet; that skill proved effective in capturing the personality of his photographic subjects. Either way, his portraits, are still informing photographers today and his prints are coveted and collected by museums such as MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Phillips de Pury & Co. managed to rope in one of these most coveted Nadar portraits. An 11 ¼ by 8 1/8 inch salt print of one of Paris’s most famous mimes—Jean-Baptise-Gaspard Deburau—an artist who “successfully reinvented the commedia dell-arte character of the clown-servant. Pierrot, formally known as Harlequin, was an extremely popular powdered mime of acrobatic grace who represented the common man in his aspirations and personal trials and tribulations” (lot notes #221; auction cat. “The Arc of Photography”, NY040311.)

The Deburau series—a handful of images that Nadar had asked the celebrated French mime artist Jean-Charles Debreau (Pierrot) to pose for—was an immediate hit and won a gold medal at the Universal Exposition of 1855. Produced during a short-lived partnership with his brother Adrien Tournachon for promotional purposes of the studio, the celebrated French mime artist gleefully embraces a basket of fruit which symbolizes the change from winter, to summer as a time of teeming fruitfulness and the land becoming alive with grain and vegetables and fruit. The basket of summer fruit might also serve as tangible evidence of God’s faithfulness to deliver them but also be something to fear. Arguably, it is as though the basket is a harbinger of trouble. English readers miss the Hebrew pun between the words “summer fruit” (kahyitz) and “end” (kehtz). But even modern-day Israelites understand that vine or tree-ripened fruit picked at its best, does not last long. Like flowers in full bloom we might feel a sense of urgency to act upon the fruit now—to eat it before it is too late (“the time is ripe for action”). Pierrot might also have been aware that present circumstances do not last long and the time to act is now—the rotting process will begin so enough.

No matter what symbolism you ascribe to this image one thing is clear. Portraits of celebrities, no matter when they lived, have tremendous currency in the present marketplace… particularly if the celebrities are famous for some outstanding scientific or creative act that impacted many people and moved the culture forward.

MAN RAY (1890-1976)
Untitled (Self-Portrait of Man Ray), 1933
Gelatin silver print
Signed and dated in ink on the recto; notations in French in pencil on the verso
11 1/2 by 9 in. (29.2 by 22.9 cm.)
Pre-sale est. : $80,000-$120,000
Price realized: $398,500
PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., N.Y.: "The Arc of Photography", NY040311
Oct. 4, 2011
Lot #226
Illustration courtesy PHILLIPS de PURY & CO. IMAGES LTD., 2011


Man Ray (1890-1976), born Emmanuel Radnitsky in Philadelphia from Russian Jewish immigrants was a painter, writer, sculptor, photographer and filmmaker best known for his friendship with Marcel Duchamp and his involvement with Dada and French Surrealism in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s. During a career that spanned more than fifty years, two continents, and work in many media, Man Ray produced a large body of photographic images that continues to command our attention.

In “Untitled (Portrait of Man Ray)” from 1933, the artist recycles or borrows elements from his own canon in the creation of a still life that seeks to encapsulate or stand in for the special properties that set him apart from his contemporaries.

His photograph—really the staging of the self—consists of a plaster bust of the artist surrounded by several of the artist’s works: a hand holding a lightbulb, a prismatic geometrical form from which a woman’s hand emerges, a photograph of a woman with artificial tears, and a bilboquet which consists of a wooden hammer-like object with a ball connected to it by a string.

In the upper left hand side of the still life, Man Ray has appropriated one of his most famous and compelling images—a woman’s plaintive upward glance with drops of glistening tears about to roll down her cheeks. “Glass Tears” (1930-1933), seems intended to invoke wonder at the cause of her distress. The cropped face—really a close-up of a woman’s mascara-encrusted eyes looking heavenward with small glass beads glued to it—is most possibly a metaphor of the bitterness or grief that accompanied the termination of a torrid three-year love affair (1929-1932) of the almost 40-year-old Man Ray with the stunningly beautiful twenty-two year old model and soon-to-be Surrealist photographer Lee Miller. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the headstrong Miller came to him at the onset of their relationship telling him outright that she was going to be his photo assistant.

Intersecting the two eyes of Man Ray’s photo-collaged model is a hand and wrist bursting out of a round prismatic form that reaches straight up casting an inky, melancholy shadow on the left side of a plaster bust of Man Ray’s face. The artist’s wit comes through here with his predilection for word play: his surrogate signature is the ‘hand’, which in French is ‘main’, a phonetic spelling of his adopted first name. The prismatic form from which the hand is shot out of might be a reference to Cubism and Futurism, whose joint influence may be felt in Man Ray’s earliest paintings.

The hand can also be seen as the eroticization of the female. The extended hand and wrist transform fetishistically into a penile form; to be a fetish implies representing something invisible rather than concrete so that the fetishistic object is a metaphor for, as well as a document or artifact of the artist’s belief system. The male head, Man Ray’s plaster doppelganger contemplates this phallus as if it were the beauty of women to which he pays homage. Freudian theology, which the Surrealists embraced wholeheartedly, explains that fetishism is a response to a fear of castration where the man turns a female body—in this case the hand and wrist of his model as synecdoche—into a penile object to consol the absence of male genitalia in a woman.

The white hand and light bulb on the bottom right of the picture and closest to the viewer’s eyes, no doubt represents the artist’s life as a photographer and his successful navigation of the worlds of commercial and fine art photography. Since his arrival in Paris, Man Ray had earned his living through providing a photographic service; his ‘commercial’ work making photographic reproductions of painting for artists and even portraits of the artists themselves. From these activities, of which he never tired of pursuing, Man Ray established the connections that enabled him to enter the more lucrative field of ‘society portraits’ and, quite quickly, fashion work.

But Man Ray is also visibly parodying the traditional function of photography as a mimetic recording of reality. By shattering representation and forming a new reality with its combination of the two-dimensional cropped and photo-collaged “Glass Tears” photograph with his three-dimensional studio curios, Man Ray is seen here focusing on the medium of photography itself. And like Salvador Dali, Andre Breton and Marcel Duchamp—all three obvious huge early influences—he would go on to meet Sigmund Freud, and, arguably, as a result of that relationship, employed extensive symbolism in his work.

The shift of emphasis from the ‘retinal’ object to the ‘conceptual’ idea, along with a sense of humor that was both anarchic and absurdist is contributed by another curio in the right of the photograph just behind the hand with bulb.

The wooden, hammer-like object with a ball connected to it by a string is a traditional Japanese toy with similarities to the classic cup-and-ball game known in the Latin American world as balero. The principal of the toys are the same: catching one object with another, where both are joined by a string.

To play with the balero, one grips the toy and using one hand only, jerks the ball so that it may be caught in the cup or impaled on the spike. The French game, which is similar to the balero, is the one illustrated in Man Ray’s “Self-Portrait of Man Ray” and is called a bilboquet. The inclusion of this object into the ‘mix’ of curios might suggest that while most people play for personal satisfaction, competitions do take place and participation in such competitions entail performing ‘tricks’ in sequence or completing ‘tricks’ for as long as possible. This might symbolically be seen as a courtship device where suitors would challenge the objects of their interest to a polite game of ring and pin. Around the time of this photograph, Man Ray was known for emphatically saying that “the tricks of today are the truths of tomorrow.”

This particular version of “Untitled (Self Portrait of Man Ray)” is extremely rare. Another print of this image is in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The 11 ½ by 9 inch gelatin silver print came with a $80,000-$120,000 pre-sale estimate. With buyer’s premium it sold for just under $400,000.

Other properties that were sold in Phillips’ top ten include Irving Penn’s “Black and White Vogue Cover (Jean Patchett)” for $374,500, Alfred Stieglitz’s “Georgia O’Keeffe: A Portrait”, $146,500, Bernd & Hilla Becher’s “Cooling Towers, Ruhr District” for $140,500, another Man Ray image entitled simply “Torso” for $134,500, Candida Hofer’s “Handelingenkamer Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal Den Haag 111”, $104,500, another Richard Avedon, this time “Nastassja Kinski and the Serpent” for $98,500 and a William Eggleston dye transfer print entitled “Outskirts of Morton, Mississippi, Halloween” for $86,500.

Sotheby's

ALFRED STIEGLITZ (1864-1946)
Camera Work: A Photographic Quarterly
The complete set of 50 Numbers the Steichen Supplement, and the 2 Special Numbers in 50 volumes
Illustrated with photogravures and halftones
Pre-sale est. $200,000-$250,000
Price realized: $398,500
SOTHEBY'S, N.Y.: "Photographs", N08775
Oct. 5, 2011
Lot #57
Illustrations courtesy SOTHEBY'S IMAGES LTD., 2011


A rare, complete set of fifty volumes of Alfred Stieglitz’s “Camera Work”, (1903-1917), one of the key documents of 20th-century photography, was the top lot of the house’s various owners’ “Photographs” fall, 2011 sale. An early proponent of “Pictorialism”, “Camera Work” first focused on a photographic method using soft focus, special filters, lens coatings, heavy manipulations in the darkroom, and exotic printing processes in an effort to emulate painting and etching. The “Photo-Secessionists” were the primary proponents of this aesthetic.

Embracing labor-intensive processes such as gum bichromate printing and platinum prints, the group countered the argument that photography was an entirely mechanical process. The best of such photographs, shot by such notables as Adolphe de Meyer, Gertrude Kasebier, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Clarence White and Frank Eugene paralleled the Impressionist style, then the current vogue in painting.

But by 1910, “Pictorialism”, which had served to open the museum doors for photography, was now already regarded as a vision of the past. Stieglitz, always craving for the new, was quoted in 1910 saying, “It is high time that the stupidity and sham in Pictorial photography be struck a solar plexus blow… claims of art won’t do. Let the photographer make a perfect photograph. And if he happens to be a lover of perfection and a seer, the resulting photograph will be straight and beautiful—a true photograph.”

Moving away from the ideals of Pictorialism to the rigor of “Straight“ photography, a group called f/64—named after the technical term that described a very small f-stop to insure sharp focus and good depth of field—formed to promote an “unvarnished” display of the medium’s natural strength. The “straight” photographers headed by Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham and others, were largely against the notion that photographs should emulate painting to be seen as fine art. This shift from the manipulation of the image by the artist/photographer to achieve his or her subjective vision, to the faithful reproduction of subject matter with sensitivity and direct, honest imagery—was taken up by Stieglitz in “Camera Work”.

Catalogue notes state that this set is also notable because half of the volumes were given by Stieglitz to his close friend Lewis Mumford, a prolific writer and critic of modern art, architecture and city planning. There is also a personal inscription from Stieglitz on the free endpaper of “Number 47”. Both of these pluses in the lot’s provenance impacted the final hammer price. The house’s estimate on “Camera Work” was a conservative $200,000-$250,000. The lot brought $398,500 with buyer’s premium.

ANSEL ADAMS (1902-1984)
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941
Mural-sized gelatin silver print
Probably printed in the 1960s or around 1970
30 1/8 by 40 in. (76.5 by 101.6 cm.)
Pre-sale est.: $300,000-$500,000
Price realized: $362,500
SOTHEBY'S, N.Y.: "Photographs", N08775
Oct. 5, 2011
Lot #22
Illustration courtesy SOTHEBY'S IMAGES LTD., 2011


Ansel Adams’ “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” is an image that comes up at just about every photography auction in the spring and fall—especially at Sotheby’s in New York. It’s the lensman’s most popular image—some collectors say it is the greatest photograph ever taken.

Adams is thought to have printed 1,300 prints of this image over a forty year period, but like Andy Warhol’s “Flower” paintings or Damien Hirst’s “Spot” paintings, supply has rarely exceeded demand. As a consequence, the price to own one just keeps getting dearer. And like Warhol’s silk-screened serial paintings of the same subject matter, Adams’ gelatin silver prints of “Moonrise” are all subtly different. Adams even went back to his negative seven years after its exposure and re-developed it in certain places to increase the contrast in the moon and the clouds and the velvety black of the night sky.

Under the last light of day on that fateful day in 1941, Adams was able to squeeze off just one sheet of film. The single exposure presented the tiny village of Hernandez nestled among the tree-lined banks of the Rio Chama river which flowed to meet the Rio Grande some thirty miles from Santa Fe. The great vault of the sky places the village in appropriate perspective—relative insignificance—and the tiny gravestones in the graveyard on the periphery of the town seem to glow from within reminding us of our own mortality.

Harry Lunn (1933-1998), a tireless proselytizer of photography as a fine-art collectable had an unheard-of huge inventory of images of photographers like Ansel Adams, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Berenice Abbott, Diane Arbus, Heinrich Kuhn, William Eggleston and Robert Mapplethorpe among many others. In 1971, when Lunn began selling Adams’ photographs, a print of the famous “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico”—which is a kind of barometer of the fine art photography market—fetched $150. In 1998, the year Lunn died of a heart attack in Paris where he had a home, a 16 by 20 inch print sold for $20,700. In Oct. 2006, also at Sotheby’s, a particularly spectacular 14 by 19 inch “Moonrise” printed in 1948 with a slightly greater range of whites, greys and blacks set a new auction record for the artist at $609,600. Adams’s present auction record, however, rests with another popular image, “Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park” (1938). A mural-sized (38 ¾ by 52 inch) print from the 1950s or 1960s sold as part of the “Photographs from the Polaroid Collection” at Sotheby’s, New York on June 21st, 2010 for $722,500.

This season’s “Moonrise”, a mural-sized (30 1/8 by 40 inch) gelatin silver print “probably printed” twenty-five-odd years after its exposure in the 1960s or around 1970—sold for $362,500.

PIERRE DUBREUIL (1872-1944)
The First Round, circa 1932
Oil print
9 5/8 by 7 3/4 inches
Pre-sale est.: $150,000-$250,000
Price realized: $314,500
SOTHEBY'S, N.Y.: "Photographs", N08775
Oct. 5, 2011
Lot #110
Illustration courtesy SOTHEBY'S IMAGES LTD., 2011


In terms of his novel imagery and technical innovation, Pierre Dubreuil (French, 1872-1944) was perhaps the most accomplished Pictorialist photographer of his day. Experimenting with bird’s eye perspective, abstraction and pictures that emphasized the flat, two-dimensional nature of the photographic image, Dubreuil soon began to produce innovative images that embraced a modernist idiom.

Although he exhibited widely during his lifetime—Dubreuil was honored with a retrospective by London’s Royal Photographic Society in 1935—sickness and poverty led him to sell his archives to the Gevaert photographic company in Belgium a year before his passing. The factory was subsequently bombed during the Second World War and sadly, the artist’s negatives and a great many of his prints were destroyed. Because of this, the artist’s sophisticated and witty works are rare and pricey.

“The First Round”, an extreme close-up of a young man’s face framed by his boxing gloves, offers the viewer a bold use of the camera’s ability to play with scale and compression. The cleverly-balanced composition dwells on the psychological state of the pugilist who is eerily calm and focused as opposed to being excited, hyper or angry. Focusing on the relevant details in the frame while ignoring unwanted distractions makes this image perfectly suited for an intimate portrait.

The photographer has captured a boxer whose peak performance is characterized by a supreme sense of control and a mastery over his environment. The young man can do no wrong—there is almost a feeling of invincibility and a sense of control that has completely freed the subject from any fear of failure. The trust and vulnerability in the young man’s face and his complete loss of self-consciousness in front of Dubreuil’s camera acts as a mirror for the lensman’s own mental state which arguably must be filled with a sense of serenity and a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of ego. Thoroughly focused on the present, the timelessness of this image allows the viewer to feel connected to a universe that celebrates the flow of life.

Sotheby’s catalogue states (auction cat. N08775, lot #110, p.68) that the only other known surviving print of “The First Round” was exhibited in the above mentioned Royal Photographic Society show and at the Musee d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris in 1987, The Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego in 1988, and the Detroit Institute of Art in 1989-90. The 9 5/8 by 7 ¾ inch oil print sold for $314,500—a new world auction record for the artist—and just shy of $100,000 more than its last appearance at the block which was also at Sotheby’s in the fall of 2005.

Rounding out the house’s top ten includes Ansel Adams’ “Leaves Mt. Rainier National Park, Wa.’” hit $194,500, Diane Arbus’s infamous “Viva at Home,” realized $194,500, Alexander Gardner’s “Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the War” for $158,500, Irving Penn’s “Girl Behind Bottle” reached $110,500, another work by Gardner entitled “Portrait of Abraham Lincoln”, $98,500, Alvin Langdon Coburn’s “The Cloud” for $92,500 and Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “Seville, Andalucia at $86,500.

Christie's

ANSEL ADAMS (1902-1984)
Clearing Storm, Sonoma County Hills, 1951
5 gelatin silver print enlargements, flush-mounted on plywood, originally a screen backing
Each approximately 67 x 26¼in. (174 x 66.5cm.)
Pre-sale est.: $200,000-$300,000
Price realized: $242,500
CHRISTIE'S, N.Y.: "Photographs", #2470
Oct. 6, 2011
Lot #190
Illustration courtesy CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD., 2011


Ansel Adams loomed large at Christie’s as well as at Sotheby’s taking the number one spot at their various owner “Photographs” sale with his five panel print enlargements entitled “Clearing Storm, Sonoma County Hills” from 1951. The work brought $242,500.

Flush-mounted on plywood, the gelatin silver prints were originally produced for the backing of a folding decorative screen for his close friends Jack and Audrey Skirball. The catalogue states that “the majority [of folding screens] were created either for exhibitions, or as commissions and gifts for close friends and “… most of the screens [produced between 1936 and the early 1970s] are now in collections of museums and other institutions—such as the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York and the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona)—or remain with the artist’s family. Several screens are missing and may have been destroyed over the years or, as in the case of lot 120 [“Clearing Storm”], was altered to curtail further deterioration and fit into a new environment” (auction cat. #2470, lot #190, p.128-129).

The highly important ‘decorative’ Skirball panels—which came with a presale estimate of $200,000-$300,000—is an extraordinary rare work of art. Adams himself has said of the screens that they were not just blow-ups; “… blowing it up” to big size might ruin it for both technical and aesthetic reasons. I simply say I make a large fine print, and it has to have fine quality and be absolutely permanent. To get that quality, there are many things that have to be overcome, like reciprocity effects, long exposures in the enlarger, and the extraordinary handling these prints have to have… so it’s a miracle that a print gets out without breaks and folds. But it has to be done that way to be permanent. Then it has to be carefully mounted.”

In making a screen, Adams first had to make a dummy and he had to know just where to divide the image so he didn’t get a displacement of diagonal lines. He also had to consider hinge and frame space and do it in the enlarger and scale it exactly to be sure he had the required “safe” overlaps. Then he had to plan carefully controlled exposures and use pretty big sheets of paper to get just what he wanted. Then, when he went to make the screen, he had to expose each section in sequence and develop each one in a fresh developer, exactly under time and temperature control so that they would match.

Adams manipulated the work tremendously in the darkroom. He always said the negative is the equivalent of the composer’s score and the print is the equivalent of the conductor’s performance. And the same piece of Mozart is conducted differently, performed differently by different orchestras, different conductors and Adams performed his own negatives differently.

For Ansel, it was very important to convey his inner feelings about the subject. His prints turn out to be a combination of the documentary with the poetic, the real with the surreal, and an investigation of both outer and the inner worlds. For the artist, “Clearing Storm, Sonoma County Hills” was an emotional and spiritual experience, one that Adams said fully expressed what he felt in front of what he was photographing in the deepest sense about life in its entirety.

His name growing synonymously with meticulous craftsmanship and environmental activism—he was often referred to as Mr. Sierra Club—Adams came out with two important books, “My Camera in the National Parks,” (1950) and “This is the American Earth,” (1960) with Nancy Newhall.

ANSEL ADAMS (1902-1984)
Aspens, Northern New Mexico, 1958
Gelatin silver mural print, printed 1965-1968
Signed in pencil (on the mount); Carmel label, with typed title and date affixed (on the frame backing); one of an estimated edition of 5
23 7/8 x 29¾in. (60.5 x 70.6cm.)
Pre-sale est.: $150,000 - 250,000
Price realized: $158,500
CHRISTIE'S, N.Y.: "Photographs", #2470
Oct. 6, 2011
Lot #186
Illustration courtesy CHRISTIE'S IMAGES, LTD., 2011


During this very rich period he created the shimmering “Aspen, Northern New Mexico” (1958) which realized $158,500. It captured the second highest lot at the Christie’s sale. Adams’ gelatin silver mural print of the image (23 7/8 by 29 ¾ inches) was executed in 1965-1968 just 5-7 years before he became the first mass-marketed fine arts photographer in the world and sustained the financial security that had eluded him his whole life.

Instrumental in this transformation—through the efforts of the aforementioned photography dealer Harry Lunn and, in the spring of 1970, William Turnage, a young man Adams met while lecturing at Yale who became the Managing Trustee of the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust—these two visionaries aided the artist in becoming a popular icon. Adams’s work not only helped signal a grand commercial vision and an uncommon faith in photography’s popular appeal, it also turned his archive into a multi-million dollar business.

“Aspen, Northern New Mexico” is arguably a landscape that is always in the process of becoming something else. The ephemeral nature of light and the weather is palpable in the image; one can almost sense the quality of the air. Critics have suggested the print flickers like a movie screen. It seems never still. The image—an Adams’s classic—has been on the block many times before and at higher prices. A larger and earlier mural-sized print (30 ½ by 38 7/8 inch) reached its zenith at Sotheby’s, New York as part of the prestigious “Photographs from the Polaroid Collection” on the 21st of June of 2010 for a record-setting $494,500 for the print.

WILLIAM EGGLESTON (B. 1939)
Sumner, Mississippi, c. 1970
Dye-transfer print, printed 2001
Initialed in ink (in the margin); signed in pencil, number 'AP', '0207.999', title 'Mississippi', date in ink, Eggleston Artistic Trust copyright credit Reproduction limitation and edition stamps (on the verso); one from an edition of 9 plus 4 artist's proofs
21 3/4 x 15 1/8in. (55.7 x 38.9cm.)
Pre-sale est.: $30,000 - 50,000
Price realized: $104,500
CHRISTIE'S, N.Y.: "Photographs", #2470
Oct. 6, 2011
Lot #16
Illustration courtesy CHRISTIE'S IMAGES, LTD., 2011


Born in 1939 in Memphis Tennessee, William Eggleston is widely credited with having elevated the medium of color photography to the status of serious art. Artistically speaking, Eggleston came of age at a time when Ansel Adams and Edward Weston were the mainstays of the photography world. Eggleston’s work was radical by comparison. Where Adams and Weston looked to chronicle the majesty of the landscape and figure, Eggleston gave credence to the details of the everyday. His work, encapsulating the changing culture of suburban life from the sixties onward was determinedly anti-heroic. Adams, a letter writer from way back, looked to what he saw as the over-saturated and run-of-the-mill content of Eggleston’s work and wrote to none other than John Szarkowski, curator and head of the photography department during the artist’s 1976 MoMA one-man exhibition, stating without equivocation, that “it [Eggleston’s photographs] had no place on the wall of a museum.”

“Sumner, Mississippi,” c. 1970, Christie’s third most expensive lot at auction reached just over a $100,000 almost doubling its high pre-sale estimate of $30,000-$50,000 (estimates do not include the buyer’s premium). The 2001, 21 ¾ by 15 1/8 inch dye-transfer print (from an edition of 9 plus 4 artist proofs) is also the perfect stand-in for Eggleston’s far-reaching aesthetic that proposed that everyday objects and activities—which coincided with a profound questioning of convention and anti-establishment sentiment that had been growing for a decade—could lend themselves to the level of aesthetic contemplation.

Eggleston’s “Sumner, Mississippi” gives itself over almost entirely to problems of composition, color and texture, and yet they do so remarkably only within the confines of what could have been seen by the casual observer whose distracted glance would normally pass-over the surface of this photograph and retain virtually nothing of it.

Eggleston’s cousin—seen lounging in an armchair in the artist’s grandparent’s house—is initially viewed as one would a casual snapshot. But as the viewer lingers over the photograph, the beauty and rarity of this privileged, private moment seeps into the viewer’s consciousness like a lizard in tall grass. Shot with great discretion, Eggleston’s quiet Leica shutter—opening quickly with a hardly discernable pop—captures an everyday prosaic, banal moment that reveals an intimacy and a psychological import that could only be offered to the viewer who makes the investment in time to observe the relaxed presence of the boy in the frame.

Compositionally, we have the central figure in the image slouched in an armchair that seems to be levitating on top of the dark floor of the living room. His hands are clasped together over the top of head holding the hardwood frame as if he were making an effort to keep the armchair from floating upwards. The chair seems to glow from the inside almost matching in intensity the illuminated lamp shade just to the left and behind the boy. Eggleston’s use of motifs on the outer edges of this picture and his habit of radically cropping people—here, the bottom half of a woman holding a cocktail in her hand on the extreme right of the image—are trademarks the artist uses again and again. An otherworldly light, whose source must be from a small flash on Eggleston’s camera, seems to be coming in through the center of the translucent drapery over the window to the left of the boy illuminating the pigments of green on the walls and curtains setting the stage for some mystical event about to happen. Save for the slouching gesture of the boy, the overall saturation of color in this dye-transfer print, with its rich combination of tone and texture and shades of green, red, gold and black gives the image the feeling of a 17th century Dutch painting, something Frans Hals might had concocted.

Other properties sold by Christie’s that fell in the top ten were: Ansel Adams’ “Surf Sequence,” $170,500, Vik Muniz’s “The Best of Life,” also $170,500, Peter Beard’s “Bull Eland Passing Elephants Digging Water, near Kathamula Tsavo, North,” $158,500, Robert Frank was well represented by three images: “London”, $116,500, “Charleston, S.C.,” at $98,500, and “Fourth of July—Jay, New York,” for $98,500. Frantisek Drtikol’s “Svitani” reached $104,500.

Re-Cap
Properties this fall were increasingly sold off-market through private sales by dealers and collectors who didn’t want to take the chance of their works being ‘burned’ at the podium. A simple case of reducing their exposure to the fickle public auction sales at a time of marketplace volatility made attaining consignments more challenging for the auction houses. Sales at the big three houses declined this season from last by just over two million.

At the height of the photography market in April, 2008, the top ten star lots of the New York season totaled a heady $6 million. This fall, the top ten barely hit $3.7 million.


Thank you to www.artnet.com for extending their Price Database to track prices on some of the works of art referenced in this article.

RESERVES AND BUY-INS: All lots from all sales are offered subject to a “RESERVE”, which is a confidential minimum price below which the lot will not be sold. The reserve cannot exceed the low estimate printed in the catalog or on-line. If the auctioneer decides that any bid is below the reserve of any article offered, he/she may invent bids up to the reserve of the article offered, after which he/she has to find a real bidder. The auctioneer may reject the same and withdraw the article from sale if the highest bidder is below the reserve of the article offered. The withdrawal is accompanied at the sound of the hammer and the auctioneer saying “PASS” as the hammer goes down on the article. Passed items are also referred to as “BUY-INS” and appear as missing lot numbers on the results page published by the house after the sale.

HAMMER PRICE, BUYER’S PREMIUM AND ESTIMATES: For lots that are sold the last price for the lot as announced by the auctioneer is the “HAMMER PRICE.” Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips de Pury & Co. charge a premium to the buyer on the final bid price on each lot sold. The “BUYER’S PREMIUM” is 25% of the final bid price of any lot up to and including $50,000, 20% of the excess of the hammer price above $50,000 and up to and including $1,000,000. Prices in the “TOP 25” below include the buyer’s premium. “ESTIMATES” of the selling price might reflect vendors’ expectations which might be too high or reflect an auction house’s strategy to publish unrealistically low figures to attract potential buyers. In most cases the estimates reflect buyers’ and sellers’ expectations and/or prices realized from previously recorded transactions. Either way, auction house published low/high estimates should not be relied upon as a statement of the price at which the item will sell, or its value for any other purpose. Auction house “ESTIMATES” do not include the buyer’s premium.



Total sales / fall 2011
$17,497,189 / 713 lots sold / $24,442 per lot average
[spring 2011… $19,582,501 / 722 lots sold / $27,123 per lot average]

Phillips de Pury & Co.
Total sales / fall 2011 … $6,929,250 / 223 lots sold / $31,073 per lot average
[spring 2011 … $5,802,250 / 235 lots sold / $24,690 per lot average]

Christie's
Total sales / fall 2011 … $5,813,563 / 352 lots sold / $16,516 per lot average
[spring 2011 … $8,148,063 / 346 lots sold / $23,549 per lot average]

Sotheby's
Total sales / fall 2011 … $4,754,376 / 138 lots sold / $34,452 per lot average
[spring 2011 … $5,632,188 / 141 lots sold / $27,123 per lot average]


Top 10 Photographs / fall 2011

1) RICHARD AVEDON (American, 1923-2004)
The Beatles Portfolio: John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and Paul McCartney, musicians, London, 1967
Four dye transfer prints, printed 1990
Each 21 5/8 by 17 3/8 in. (54.9 by 44.1 cm.)
Each signed and numbered '1/6' in ink in the margin
Each signed, numbered '1/6' in pencil, copyright credit reproduction limitation
Title, date and medium stamps on the verso
Accompanied by the original linen clamshell portfolio case
Pre-sale est.: $350,000-$450,000
Price realized: $722,500
PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., N.Y.: "Photographs", NY040211
Oct. 4, 2011
Lot #56


2) NADAR (GASPARD-FELIX) & ADRIEN TOURNACHON (1820-1910) & (1825-1903)
Pierrot with Fruit, 1854-1855
Salt print
11 1/4 by 8 1/8 in. (28.6 by 20.6 cm.)
Signed "Nadar Jne" in ink by Adrien Tournachon, signed and inscribed with a small drawing by Charles Deburau, the French mime, to his collaborator Negrillier, in ink on the recto
Pre-sale est.: $150,000-$200,000
Price realized: $542,500
PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., N.Y.: "The Arc of Photography", NY040311
Oct. 4, 2011
Lot #221


3) ALFRED STIEGLITZ (1864-1946)
Camera Work: A Photographic Quarterly
The complete set of 50 Numbers the Steichen Supplement, and the 2 Special Numbers in 50 volumes
Illustrated with photogravures and halftones
Pre-sale est. $200,000-$250,000
Price realized: $398,500
SOTHEBY'S, N.Y.: "Photographs", N08775
Oct. 5, 2011
Lot #57


4) MAN RAY (1890-1976)
Untitled (Self-Portrait of Man Ray), 1933
Gelatin silver print
Signed and dated in ink on the recto; notations in French in pencil on the verso
11 1/2 by 9 in. (29.2 by 22.9 cm.)
Pre-sale est. : $80,000-$120,000
Price realized: $398,500
PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., N.Y.: "The Arc of Photography", NY040311
Oct. 4, 2011
Lot #226


5) IRVING PENN (1917-2009)
Black and White Vogue Cover (Jean Patchett), New York, 1950
Platinum palladium print, printed 1976
17 ¾ by 15 ¼ inches (45.1 by 38.7 cm)
Signed, titled, numbered ‘27/34’, annotated ‘Platinum-palladium’
‘Print made October 1976’ in pencil
Conde Nast copyright credit reproduction limitation and Edition stamps on the verso
Pre-sale est.: $200,000-$300,000
Price realized: $374,500
PHILLIPS de PURY & CO., N.Y.: “Photographs,” NY040211
Oct. 4, 2011
Lot #32


6) ANSEL ADAMS (1902-1984)
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941
Mural-sized gelatin silver print
Probably printed in the 1960s or around 1970
30 1/8 by 40 in. (76.5 by 101.6 cm.)
Pre-sale est.: $300,000-$500,000
Price realized: $362,500
SOTHEBY'S, N.Y.: "Photographs", N08775
Oct. 5, 2011
Lot #22


7) PIERRE DUBREUIL (1872-1944)
The First Round, circa 1932
Oil print
9 5/8 by 7 3/4 inches
Pre-sale est.: $150,000-$250,000
Price realized: $314,500
SOTHEBY'S, N.Y.: "Photographs", N08775
Oct. 5, 2011
Lot #110


8) ANSEL ADAMS (1902-1984)
Clearing Storm, Sonoma County Hills, 1951
5 gelatin silver print enlargements, flush-mounted on plywood, originally a screen backing
Each approximately 67 x 26¼in. (174 x 66.5cm.)
Pre-sale est.: $200,000-$300,000
Price realized: $242,500
CHRISTIE'S, N.Y.: "Photographs", #2470
Oct. 6, 2011
Lot #190


9) ANSEL ADAMS (1902-1984)
Leaves, Mt. Rainier National Park, WA, 1942
Mural-sized, mounted at corners only, framed
52 ¼ by 58 inches (132.7 by 96.5 cm) (sight size)
An ‘Ansel Adams 181 Van Ess Way, Carmel, California, 93923’ studio label With typed title, date, and ‘Property of Michael Adams & Anne Adams Helms’ On the reverse
Probably printed in the 1960s
Pre-sale est.: $70,000-$100,000
Price realized: $194,500
SOTHEBY’S, N.Y.: “Photographs”, N08775
Oct. 5, 2011
Lot #23


10) DIANE ARBUS (1923-1971)
Viva At Home
Gelatin silver print
15 ¼ by 15 ¼ inches
Signed, dated and inscribed with the Arbus Estate authentication
Number by the photographer’s daughter, Doon Arbus
Vintage print by the artist in 1968
Pre-sale est.: $100,000-$200,000
Price realized: $194,500
SOTHEBY’S, N.Y.: “Photographs”, N08775
Oct. 5, 2011
Lot #150

 

Brian Appel 2009 Webdesign by Lovegrove & Repucci