Issue #17  7/1/2000
French Summer Auctions a Bit of a Dud

The June auctions in Paris and Bievres were two of the least exciting offerings from these two houses.

At Beaussant Lefevre in Paris, the most interesting items were from Aguado, Deveria, Poitevin and Ternande.

The first two of the Olympe Aguado's were small but nice prints.  The first, a self portrait with two of his dogs, went to a French collector for 22,000 francs plus the premium (about $3500); the second was a cute image of a dog holding the leash of a small donkey cart in its teeth while a man stands next to the cart.  English dealer Robert Hershkowitz bought the image for a little less than $3000.   I underbid it. 

THE image of these two auctions, a negative of a tree by Aguado, went for 82,000 francs plus the premium to a U.S. dealer on the phone against the underbidder, Paris dealer Marc Pagneux, in the room.  While the image wasn't quite as impressive as it was in the catalog, it was still a fine negative, and it doubled its presale estimate of 40,000-50,000 francs.

I tried to get a daguerreotype of a photographer with his camera.  The quarter plate had a scratch on the far left side, but the central portion of the image itself was unmarked and in fine condition.  I underbid to the phone's nearly 60,000-franc winning bid, which includes the premium.

The pre-auction announcement of Deveria images in this auction had caused a bit of a stir in the French community.  Deveria's work is incredibly rare and sometimes very interesting.  He was an amateur, and most of his images are unique. He was the first to photograph many Egyptian sites in the 1850s.

Unfortunately most of the images in this sale did not deliver on the promise.  The prints were generally weak and very few were Egyptian, and those were taken later in 1860 probably at the Louvre where Deveria worked.  At least one of the works, Le Scribe du Louvre, was preempted. 

Paris dealer Philippe Doublet bought up several of the better Egyptian-oriented images for an upcoming fall exhibition that he is planning. 

I bought what I felt were the most interesting and strongest prints of Deveria's images of Normandy, both of the port of Courseulles, in the Calvados area.  These photographs were made (like most of Deveria's) with paper negatives and printed on albumenized salted paper circa 1859.

A very large group of Poitevin experiments prompted an unusual announcement by the auction expert, Pierre-Marc Richard, that they would not be preempted by any museum.

The experiments ran the gamut from daguerreotype plates that had no images at all on them to some very important pieces.  American Michael Sachs was the most aggressive bidder on this group, although a few of the French dealers and collectors sneaked in on some of the lower level items.  I purchased a trio of self portraits in various media.

The last group of important images to come up here was a rare group of photographs of the arrival of the future queen of Portugal, Princess Stephanie of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen taken by Amedee Lemaire de Ternande.

The unfortunate princess was the Princess Diana of her day.  She was beautiful, well liked and created a storm of media attention, but she died within a short time after her arrival in Portugal. 

The images all went considerably over their reserves.  The top image--an albumen print showing the arrival, which was published as a woodcut in L'Illustration--fetched about $8000.  I had purchased the same image as a salt print last year at Beaussant, but then it was an anonymous print. My price on this item is still half that of this auction.  Robert Hershkowitz, Marc Pagneux and the phone were all active bidders on this lot.

We moved on to Bievres, the little outdoor photo fair about a half hour by car out of Paris.  The once-a year fair does seem to be getting more low-end each year.  Just less and less material coming to the market, I guess.

The Galerie de Chartres usually takes the occasion of the fair to move its auction to Bievres at this time of year.  Again the selection of images was not very impressive, outside of a group of important glass plate negatives and a couple of albums.

The glass plates, which were originally collected around 1900 (although the photographs were made in the 1850s), featured important photographers and images, including nudes by Felix Moulin, Auguste Belloc, and Achille Quinet.  They fetched prices up to well over 12,000 francs per plate--still very reasonable prices for such important and unique pieces.

There were two albums that caused some fireworks.  The first was a mixed album of albumen prints of Japan, Brittany and Russia.  There were two exceptional prints from Brittany.  Paris dealers Arnaud Delas and Bruno Tartarin bought the album for nearly 140,000 francs over a phone bidder (reportedly the Brittany department government), including the premium, certainly not a bargain.  The estimate was 15,000-20,000 francs.

Etude Tajan auction expert Serge Kakou took home a very large folio 1868 album of Brest by A. Bernier.  There were some very good images in the group, even though the prints were not as strong as they might have been.  But Kakou told me that it was the only such album he has ever seen, even though it is mentioned in the SFP's exhibition information.  Some of the images are of convicts, among the very first such photographs.  He had to beat back an aggressive phone bidder and paid nearly 100,000 francs with the premium for his treasure (estimate 20,000-30,000 francs).

In another related action, the French parliament, facing EEOC censor, has finally and unanimously approved a plan to privatize the art auction market and open it to foreign and online auctioneers next year.

In a move typical of the French government, the parliament has also agreed to compensate the 468 licensed French auctioneers, who have held a monopoly on art auctions in France since 1556, for their "expected losses" due to the action.  Christie's/Piasa, Sotheby's, and Phillips/EtudeTajan have either built or are in the process of building new showrooms and offices in Paris.  Other major Paris houses are expected to also compete, but many of them will simply be gobbled up in the ensuing competitive wars.