The Fall auction season opened with only mild enthusiasm for the works on offer. Numerous conversations with dealers and collectors indicated that they all had something they were interested in, but no one was excited by the totality of photographs coming to market. Christie's led off on September 29 with a selection of work from the Forbes Collection, a sale heavy in works by Irving Penn and Harry Callahan. While fewer and fewer people are actually in the room these days, the 16 people present at the beginning of this sale were a new low. The number eventually reached 21, with a few more dealers than have been seen recently, but at the end of the 62 lots people were wondering what had happened to the photography market.
Irving Penn's Harlequin Dress, 1950 ($200,000–$300,000), hit its low estimate at $245,000 [auction house estimates do not include the buyer's premium] and went to a European buyer on the phone. It was the top lot of the Forbes sale and number four on the day for Christie's. Then Penn's Mermaid Dress, Paris, 1950 ($80,000–$120,000), swam above high estimate to $209,000, also going to a European on the phone, second here and sixth on the day.
Hans Kraus, consulting on his cell phone, waged an intense battle, finally capturing Lewis Carroll's Lorina and Alice Liddell in Chinese Costume, 1860 ($10,000–$15,000), for $106,250, more than five times the high estimate. [See the article by Alex Novak here: http://www.iphotocentral.com/news/article-view.php/220/208/1381/0/0/10, on Christie's plan to take an additional two percent seller's premium for lots that sell over the high estimate and calculate the effect that would have had on this lot. I don't think they have a plan to return 2% of the seller's premium to consignors whose lots sell for under the low estimate, as one-quarter of the lots that sold did here.]
Two more Irving Penn lots of note sold well: Street Photographer, New York, 1951 ($40,000-$60,000), for $62,500 to an order bidder, and 2 Guedras, 1974 ($50,000–$70,000), for $137,000 to the phone, I believe to the same buyer as the Harlequin Dress. That tied for ninth place on the day.
The sale ended at 11 a.m., leaving an annoying three hours until the afternoon session. Usually this is what happens at Sotheby's, but it was reversed this time. The sale total was $1,278,125, but with a buy-in rate of 40.3%. Of the lots that sold 17 went to the phone, 13 to order, four online, and only two sold in the room.
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