Issue #147  8/4/2008
Christie's Elfering Sale Totals $4,373,200; Nude of Carla Bruni, Sarkozy's Wife, Draws Heavy Media Attention and Silly Bid

By Stephen Perloff
Editor of The Photograph Collector

Gert Elfering, the founder of Berlin's Camera Work Gallery, began as a photographer and became an established collector and tastemaker, promoting interest in fashion, beauty, and high-style photography. The first sale of images from his collection at Christie's in 2005 and the second sale of images by Horst last year were both highly successful. This third sale comprised images he had originally held back for himself.

Christie's saleroom was standing room only while a bank of TV cameras from European media outlets lined the wall at the rear of the room. Richard Avedon's Lauren Hutton, Great Exuma, the Bahamas, October 1968, a gelatin silver print, flush-mounted on linen, printed 1980 ($50,000–$70,000) sold for $127,000 to an American collector on the phone (eighth place). Helmut Newton's Tied-up Torso, Ramatuelle, 1980 ($60,000–$80,000) was freed by an order bidder at $109,000 (ninth place).

Ute Hartjen, representing the current owners of Camera Work, paid $181,000 for Richard Avedon's vibrant portrait of Brigitte Bardot, 1959 ($80,000–$120,000), number four on the top ten. Avedon's Marella Agnelli ($40,000–$60,000) brought $85,000 from the phones.

An online bidder grabbed Helmut Newton's color print Domestic Nude IX, Redhead, Los Angeles, 1992 ($30,000–$50,000) for $73,000. A platinum print on silk of Horst's Round the Clock ($30,000–$50,000) sold to the phones for $97,000. Another phone bidder won Thomas Ruff's Nude #194 ($40,000–$60,000) at $79,000.

Then came the lot that the media in the back were waiting for: Michel Comte's nude of Carla Bruni, 1993, which was not unrealistically estimated at $3,000–$4,000, given Comte's status in the market when this picture was consigned. However, Bruni had recently married Nicolas Sarkozy, the new president of France, and Christie's had slogged this print brilliantly in Europe. It was hard to keep track of how many phones were bidding, but it was a lot. I've never witnessed an audience laugh throughout the bidding on a lot as they did here as the price went up and up beyond any value but ego. At the end an Asian man in the room cast the winning bid of $91,000 and was immediately surrounded by the media. He claimed he was bidding on behalf of a Chinese collector.

Elfering had originally offered to donate the proceeds of the sale of this picture to Fondation Kantha Bopha, a children's hospital project in Cambodia, but the director refused to accept money from the sale. The proceeds will now go to Sodis, which provides drinking water in poor countries. Beat Richner, the founder of Kantha Bopha, said taking money from the sale of an image of this type would "trivialize the institution of Kantha Bopha, and some regular donors may begin to wonder." I hope those regular donors come up with that extra $70,000 or so that the charity would have received.

A phone bidder paid $97,000 for Irving Penn's Kate Moss ($30,000–$40,000). Helmut Newton's Elsa Peretti in a Bunny costume by Halston ($40,000–$60,000) hopped to another phone bidder for $79,000. Irving Penn's Frozen Foods, New York, 1977, a dye-transfer print ($50,000–$70,000) claimed tenth place, as it sold to a European collector on the phone for $103,000.

Horst's Mainbocher Corset, Paris, 1939, platinum on silk ($30,000–$50,000) tied for sixth place at $133,000 with Irving Penn's Picasso (B), Cannes, 1957, platinum-palladium print, flush-mounted on aluminum ($60,000–$80,000), which went to French dealer Thierry Marlat. An Asian collector put Irving Penn's Mouth for L'Oréal, New York, 1986, a dye-transfer print ($50,000–$70,000) into second place at $205,000.

Helmut Newton's Saddle I, Paris (at the Hotel Lancaster), 1976 ($50,000–$70,000) rode to fifth place as a European collector phoned in a bid of $157,000, almost double the high estimate. And Newton's Sie Kommen (Naked and Dressed), Paris, 1981, took the top spot at $241,000, just over high estimate.

Penn's Gisele, New York, April 1, 1999, claimed third place at $193,000, four times the high estimate. Lastly, Penn's Ginkgo Leaves, the cover image of his book Passage, closed out the sale just under high estimate at $91,000.

Photographs from the Collection of Gert Elfering totaled $4,373,200 against an estimate of $2–$3 million with a 16% buy-in rate--yet another success for Elfering and Christie's.

(Copyright ©2008 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/.