Issue #107  7/10/2006
Phillips Sets Its Highest Sales Total For a Photography Sale

By Stephen Perloff
Editor of The Photograph Collector

Phillips de Pury & Company's New York Spring sale on April 26 reached the highest sale total by the firm to date for photography. At $6,180,063, it far surpassed the previous record total of $4.3 million set last October.

"The results we achieved reflect a solid base of interest in collecting photographs at Phillips de Pury & Company. We continue to be a highly competitive venue for sellers and a welcome source of fresh and enthralling material for collectors," Rick Wester, director and worldwide head of photographs said. "Our clientele is global and continues to broaden. For the third sale in a row, our client base expanded by high percentages and for the first time ever, we sold out of our catalogues," he added. Those catalogues proved to be very problematic as Phillips, in its quest for a clean look to its pages, moved the lot details to the back of the catalogue. It was a nice attempt but the almost universal complaints seem to have been heard and we probably won't see that again.

The first 109 lots in the morning sale were offered on behalf of a Private European Collection and the results were strong--but again, the bidding was slow going. The group was 93% sold by lot and achieved over $1.5 million against a pre-sale estimate of $1,010,000-$1,451,000.

Imogen Cunningham's portrait of Frida Kahlo went to the phone for almost double the high estimate at $42,000. Howard Greenberg took the top lot of this collection, Dora Maar's "Les années vous guettent" (Nusch Eluard), at $102,000 (third highest price for a photograph by the artist and sixth place in the sale). A 1950s print of Dorothea Lange's White Angel Breadline sold for more than 50% over the high estimate at $57,600. Rudolf Koppitz's wonderful but over-exposed "Bewegungsstudie" ($70,000–$90,000), went to the phone for only $60,000.

Lewis Hine's "Girl working on a Carolina Cotton Mill", brought $90,000 as a phone bidder out spun Lee Marks. That was the same price Phillips sold this same print for in April 2004 from Alex Novak's collection, still the second highest price for the artist at auction, but at a $75,000 hammer price, it was a net loss to the collector. Barry Singer weathered the bidding over Jeffrey Fraenkel for Arthur Rothstein's "Fleeing a Dust Storm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma", 1936 at $36,000, a world auction record for the artist.

Robert Frank's "Paris" sold over estimate at $38,400. With a rubble-filled battered metal trash can in the foreground and a young girl--slightly out of focus--carrying a paper bag behind it, it's an evocative inverse of Cartier-Bresson's "Rue Mouffetard".

Camera Works' Ute Hartjen went just over estimate for Richard Avedon's Marilyn Monroe, Actress at $40,800.

As the morning dragged on through many lower priced lots and active bidding, auctioneer Rick Wester started talking faster and faster, but the bidding didn't go any faster. The last significant lot of this collection, lot 97, William Eggleston's "Near Minter City and Glendora, Mississippi" ($20,000-$30,000) went to a phone bidder at $69,600 at noon exactly. And lot 109, the last of the collection, was hammered down at 12:12. But there were still 100 lots to go in the morning session!

The sale continued with Karl Blossfeldt's "Cotula Turginata" ($60,000-$80,000) passing at $42,000. But the Werner Mantz portfolio of ten photographs more than tripled its high estimate at $48,000.

Next up was the cover lot, a Man Ray Rayograph, 1926. Howard Greenberg prevailed over a phone bidder at the low estimate, $296,000, making it the top lot of the sale and the third highest price for one of these unique works. Up next, Julia Margaret Cameron's Sir John Herschel, April, 1867, likewise sold to Greenberg, also at the low estimate, for $108,000 (the second highest price achieved for Cameron).

Edwynn Houk made off with a possibly unique print of André Kertész's "Still Life" ($70,000–$90,000) for $72,000. Tom Jacobson, who earlier championed the work of Pierre Dubreuil, consigned six x-ray images from the 1950s by Dr. Paul Fries. But unlike the lush surfaces of Dubreuil's prints, these were hard and glossy and not at all sensuous. They were also overpriced. Even a truly wonderful image of a hat passed. Only one of the group, a lower-priced but engaging image of a watering can, sold.

Harry Callahan's "Torn Sign", 1946, sold over estimate at $48,000. The Yousuf Karsh portfolio "Fifteen Portraits" brought the same price. A phone bidder flew the flag for Robert Frank's "Hoboken, NJ" at $96,000.

An inscribed and addressed post card of Diane Arbus's "Twins" was delivered to Howard Greenberg, consulting on his cell phone, for $66,000, over Bruce Silverstein. Oddly, the postcard has no stamp or postmark. Lee Friedlander's "Jazz and Blues" portfolio garnered $60,000 (the second highest price achieved for a Friedlander portfolio).

Robert Adams's "Outdoor Theater" (Colorado Springs), from "Current West", 1968 tripled its high estimate at $36,000. Irving Penn's still life, "Blast" (13 Steel Pieces), doubled its low estimate at $42,000. And Hiroshi Sugimoto's "Bay of Sagami, Atami" ($20,000-$30,000) surged to $56,400. Thus the morning session finally came to a close--at 1:45 p.m. With the afternoon session slated to begin at 2 p.m., yours truly exhorted the auctioneer to extend the starting time to 2:15, which he did. Still, for us masochists who sat through the entire auction, it was a brutal schedule.

"Albert Giacomelli working in his studio", by Cartier-Bresson, doubled its high estimate at $32,000. Man Ray's erotic "Le Prière" also went high at $57,600. And Edwynn Houk made off with Man Ray's "La Poursuite" at $38,400. Lisette Model's "Blind Man, Paris", 1937 set a world auction record for Model at $36,000.

A Moholy-Nagy Fotogramm sold at $114,000, good for third place at the sale. Then a world record price was achieved for Tina Modotti with the sale of her "Hands of the Puppeteer" at $216,000.

Howard Greenberg made a play for Paul Outerbridge, Jr.'s "The Piano", topping the high estimate--and dealer Charles Isaacs--at $108,000.

A phone bidder got high on Irving Penn's "Hippie Group, San Francisco", 1967 ($10,000-$15,000), taking it at $48,000. Ute Hartjen captured Robert Frank's "London" ($25,000-$35,000), with its top-hatted figure, at $72,000. Karen Marks, consulting on her cell phone, doubled the low estimate for William Klein's striking sea of faces, "Grace Line, New York", at $62,400.

Peter Lindbergh continued his winning ways as his "Amber Valletta, Harper's Bazaar, New York", flew to $74,400. Then Helmut Newton's "Big Nude IX, The Two Violettas" ($100,000–$150,000) passed at $90,000. But a group of five of his smaller "Big Nude" pictures went at the high estimate of $84,000.

A phone bidder grabbed Robert Mapplethorpe's "Flag" away from Turid Meeker for $100,800, a record price for a silver print of the work, and the second highest price for a single silver print by the artist.

Martin Schoeller's portrait of Bill Clinton didn't reach Angelina Jolie levels, but it did almost triple its high estimate at $36,000. Is there a political message here?

Four Sugimoto seascapes all topped their $30,000 high estimates and sold between $40,800 and $46,800. And for the last big lot, a bidder got starry-eyed for Thomas Ruff's "03h 30m / -20°" taking the prize at $78,000.

(Copyright ©2006 by The Photograph Collector.)

My thanks to Steve Perloff and The Photograph Collector Newsletter for giving me permission to use this information. The Photograph Collector, which is a wonderful newsletter that I can heartily recommend, is published monthly and is available by subscription for $149.95. You can phone 1-215-891-0214 and charge your subscription or send a check or money order to: The Photograph Collector, 140 East Richardson Ave, Langhorne, PA 19047. Or to order The Photograph Collector Newsletter online, go to: http://www.photoreview.org/wordpressindex/shop/.