While the big three houses' photography auctions are carefully curated these days, Dreweatt & Bloomsbury's auctions are a throwback to a time when auction houses were clearing houses. Most of material the house offers is in the mid- and low-range, with the occasional high value item.
The first three lots were by Roger Fenton, 1855 Crimea images. They all had some condition problems. The first, "Harbour of Balaclava, The Cattle Pier", was light but still sold at £2,600. The other two faired less well, selling for £800 and £700 respectively.
Lot 4, a James Anderson image of the Forum in Rome, 1858 was too light to be of interest to any potential buyer, and it was the same case for the Louis de Clercq of Seville. Lot 15 grabbed my attention as soon as I received the catalogue: a wonderful portrait of G.F Watts by Julia Margaret Cameron. It looked dark and rich in the catalogue. In reality, it was badly affected by silvering and had some strange processing flaws underneath. Despite this, it sold for £2,600.
Lot 17 had condition problems that were obvious even in the catalogue, "Study of a Child", a platinum print by Gertrude Käsebier. Still, it found a buyer at £1100. Lot 19, "Lady Rose", a theatrical studio portrait by Cecil Beaton from 1930 had real presence and was snapped up for a reasonable £800.
It's always good to see some less familiar images by Henri Cartier-Bresson, but the 1950s vintage print of two priests walking on a street in New Orleans went unsold despite a modest estimate of £1,000-1,500.
There were seven Willy Ronis images, "Le Nu Provençal" commanding the highest price, £2,600. The four Elsbeth Juda prints failed to tempt anyone, while lot 30, a vintage Berenice Abbott, "New York Telephone Building", was sold for £2800. It was just average, rather than a great print. The three Louis Faurer images, though printed later, all found buyers, with "Market Street, Philadelphia" going for £1,500.
There was a fair amount of vintage celebrity material here, but it seems it doesn't sell as well as it did a few years ago. While an Andre De Dienes 1946 image of Marilyn Monroe sold at £1,400, the Don English of Marlene Dietrich went unsold, as did the George Hurrell of Jean Harlow. Same story with a Clarence Sinclair Bull of Grace Kelly and an Edward Quinn of Brigitte Bardot.
The glam of a more recent era faired better. The Herbert Ritts "Madonna, True Blue, 1986" went for £6,000; the Ellen von Unwerth of supermodel Claudia Schiffer sold for £2,000; and the same photographer's image of Drew Barrymore sold for £1200. And, yes, there was a Kate Moss here as well: a 2006 image by Mary McCartney, which sold for £4,000.
I had looked forward to inspecting lot 84A, a 1903 vintage print by Herbert George Ponting, "At The Crater's Brink, Asama-Yama, Japan", with two well dressed gentlemen peering down into the crater. A wonderful image but the print had a lot of small blotches, presumably from damp staining. Despite this, it sold, for £1,850.
Lot 85 was a great Mario Giacomelli, "Io Non Ho Mani Chi Mi Accarezzino, II Voloto, 1961. A later 1980s print, it went for £6,500.
There were more than a few unsold lots here. These included lesser images by Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler, a very nice Colin Jones, two Bruce Davidson prints from the Welsh Miners series, as well as prints by Weegee, René Burri, Ruth Orkin and Ansel Adams. Lot 97, Horst's "Round The Clock", usually a guaranteed seller, failed to find any takers despite the reasonable estimate of £4,000-6,000.
The market for George Platt Lynes has cooled off in the last 10 years, but a very nice print of Dovima, circa 1950, sold for £1300. Lot 99, "Nude with Shadows" by Erwin Blumenfeld was not one of his best, but still a snip at an estimate of £2,000-3,000. Despite this it failed to sell.
Michael Diemar is a long-time writer about the photography scene, in addition to being a collector, curator lecturer and ex-London gallerist (in 2009 opening Diemar/Noble Gallery). He has written extensively for several Scandinavian photography publications, as well as for I Photo Central.