Sotheby's various owners sale on April 2 in New York began with 15 people in the room, eventually growing to 26 people and falling back to 15. At the end there were more staff members on the phones than bidders in the seats.
The morning session got off to a rocky start, as 19 of the first 35 lots passed, including nine in a row at one point. But Ansel Adams's Tenaya Lake, Mount Conness, Yosemite National Park, ($50,000–$70,000) went to the phones at $75,000.
While a couple of Edward Curtises passed, his An Oasis in the Badlands ($30,000–$50,000) took a drink at $81,250 and his portrait, Geronimo ($60,000–$90,000), was claimed by a bidder in the room who was sitting next to Howard Greenberg at $75,000.
A poor copy of Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the War passed at $80,000, but John Beasly Greene's Le Tombeau De La Chrétienne, Vue Du Côté Nord went over estimate at $100,000, tied for ninth place in the day sale. Weston's Head of an Italian Girl (Tina Modotti) did not find a buyer at $220,000, then Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg paid $62,500, the low estimate, for a 1920s–30s print of Lewis W. Hine's Immigrants, Ellis Island (Italians Looking for Lost Luggage), 1905.
Jeffrey Fraenkel took over the lease for a vintage print of Walker Evans's Houses in Negro Quarter of Tupelo, MS ($70,000– $100,000) for $106,250, eighth place. In other real estate developments, a phone bidder claimed Edward Steichen's The Maypole (Empire State Building) at $75,000, the low estimate and also the reserve. Then a phone bidder bested Bruce Silverstein for Margaret Bourke-White's Selected Images of the Chrysler Building Construction with eight prints, paying a New York premium of almost twice the high estimate, $112,500, putting it in seventh place for this sale. Bidding had picked up as only three of the second 35 lots passed.
In the afternoon, Edwynn Houk checked in for Bill Brandt's Belgravia, London (Nude) ($20,000–$30,000) at $68,750. The cover lot, August Sander's The Painter Heinrich Hoerle ($150,000–$250,000) sold a bit under estimate to Jeffrey Fraenkel at $173,000, for third place.
Then an Internet bidder snagged Frantisek Drtikol's Nude above estimate at $100,000, which tied for ninth place. And Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg won the top lot of the day sale, Alfred Stieglitz's Georgia O'Keeffe (Nude Study) at the low estimate, $365,000. Jaromír Funke's Abstraktní Foto ($50,000–$70,000) was bought for $112,500, for sixth place, by the same Internet bidder who bought the Drtikol.
Man Ray's Champs Délicieux: Album de Photographies ($250,000–$350,000) was a tasty treat at $281,000, just under the low estimate and good enough for second place in this auction. Jeffrey Fraenkel came back to nosh on Edward Weston's Pepper ($100,000–$150,000) at $125,000, for fourth place. The afternoon was clearly a more substantial and successful session as it included seven of the top ten lots, including the top six.
A phone bidder pierced through the crowd for Diane Arbus's The Human Pincushion (1), Ronald C. Harrison ($60,000–$90,000) at $62,500. Several Peter Beard images passed, but three different phone bidders swooped in to take Beard's Hunting Cheetahs on the Taru Desert, Kenya, June 1960 ($40,000– $60,000) at $56,250; his Giraffes in Mirage on the Taru Desert, Kenya, June 1960 for The End of the Game ($70,000–$100,000) at $112,500 (for fifth place in the sale); and Reaching Elephant, Kenya ($50,000– $70,000) at $62,500, respectively.
Robert Mapplethorpe's Grapes ($25,000– $35,000) were too sweet for a phone bidder to resist, at $68,750. Kevin Moore exceeded the high estimate for Irving Penn's Two Girls in War-Time Clothes (Dorian Leigh and Evelyn Tripp) at $50,000. A phone lapped up Penn's Girl Drinking (M. J. R.) under estimate at $81,250.
Jerry Schatzberg's Bob Dylan, Smoke, burned up the phones as it sold for $28,125, more than three times its high estimate. Robert Mapplethorpe's Gerber Daisy ($20,000–$30,000) blossomed to $53,125. And Désirée Dolron's popular Xteriors XIII ($45,000–$60,000) finished off the big lots at $59,375.
The multi-owner sale added a bit more than $4 million to Sotheby's total. The two sales together in Sotheby's spring photography auctions brought an overall total of $9,447,500 million with 24 photographs selling in excess of $100,000. It was the first time Sotheby's won the total dollar championship since spring 2009 at the depth of the market during the recession when their sale totaled only $2,384,690.
Denise Bethel, Sotheby's Chairman of Photographs, Americas, and Christopher Mahoney, Head of Sotheby's Photographs Department, commented, "We are thrilled with the result of our single owner sale The Inventive Eye. There was sustained bidding for classic works by the giants of the medium, such as Edward Weston and Edward Steichen, with Shells and Gloria Swanson soaring above their high estimates to rightly take their place among the highest prices achieved for each artist at auction. Photographs by Alvin Langdon Coburn rarely appear on the market, and his Vortograph nearly doubled the previous artist record when it sold for $605,500. Two superb prices were achieved for László Moholy-Nagy photograms; and a world record was set for an Edward Weston Pepper."
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