I felt like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland as I ran from the Metro to Sotheby's Paris auction house--only I was out of shape and out of breath. I was late, late for an important date: namely to bid on the very first lot of the second day of the Jammes auction.
The second day was devoted solely to the Charles Negre archive from the Jammes collection: a magnificent treasure trove of images by this one photographer. Even more than the first day's sale (see our last E-Photo Newsletter #42 on the www.iphotocentral.com site for details of that part of the event), this part of the auction was subject to reserves that bore little in the way of any reality. This added to the tension and anxiety of dealers and collectors alike who thought they had spotted a "bargain" and hoped beyond realistic expectations that they were the only one to do so.
I arrived with two minutes to spare. The auctioneer was spouting the normal pre-auction announcements. In a sweat I settled in my seat, trying to find the paddle that I hoped I would need. The first group of images was Charles Negre's genre studies and portraits.
The first lot (301) was a beautiful and very early (1848c) untrimmed salt print of a model in chemise lying on a bed with a simple sheet for a backdrop and some sculpture on a mantelpiece to the left. It had a ridiculously low estimate (as did many lots in this day's sale) of 15,000-18,000 euros. I looked for my spot and then kept bidding. In the end I had, what for me at least, was one of the treasures of the sale. The price: 90,450 euros or a bit over $80,000. It was enough to place fifth in this morning's session. I am not sure, but I think Ezra Mack was my underbidder. By the end of the day, the lot would look inexpensive indeed, as three separate parties approached me on the image.
As Malvern, PA and NYC photo dealer Charles Isaacs told me after the sale, "The earlier in the sale, the better your chance of getting a lot at a reasonable price. There were some gems earlier, and these images now seem like real bargains." Of course, he could be referring to his own early buy on lot 304, a captivating market scene near the Paris Town Hall, which he picked up for only 46,750 euros.
As I said in the previous newsletter that covered the first day of the Jammes sale, this was a difficult auction to keep track of the bidders. The room was full and active, plus many bidders used different paddles (bidding for different clients, etc.). There were also a lot of new players, with whom I was not familiar. I tried to identify the bidders as best as I could, but I will be happy to make adjustments on the iphotocentral archive of these newsletters later if any of you need to make corrections. Just email me at email@example.com . The euro, as I said above, was at .885 to the dollar (it has since strengthened a bit, making it a little more expensive to pay after the sale), but Sotheby's premium is a stiffer 20% and the prices below include the premium already, so you should just multiply these figures by the .885 to get to the dollar amount when it is not given. I am going to stick mostly with items that will factor out to over $25,000 just so that this newsletter does not go on forever (and only seem like that).
Lot 308, another market scene near the Paris Town Hall (Hotel de Ville) had been designated a National Treasure by the French government. During dinner after the opening of the Le Gray show at the Bibliotheque Nationale, according to other dinner guests, collector Suzanne Winsberg had apparently been telling frightening stories about what would happen if one dared to bid on a National Treasure-designated lot. Evoking all types of horrible punishments that would be inflicted by the French government, Suzanne warned the dinner group not to bid. So guess who bids on this lot, one of the first "National Treasures"? You got it: Suzanne Winsberg. She got the item at the reserve of 50,000 euros (total 58,250 with the premium). Apparently though, the item will stay in France where she has an apartment, but then she also has a place in New York City. Rumor has it that the image may eventually be given to a French institution.
The first of the two small rag pickers with basket, lot 309, sold to NYC dealer Hans Kraus, who was acting for a collector. French dealer Marc Pagneux was the underbidder. The image sold for 39,850 euros, against an estimate range of 12,000-15,000 euros. Although it was an albumen print (but still the same early date), the image was a stronger print than the second one and, as it turns out, was a much, much better buy. Which image was the better of the two is in the eye of the beholder.
The second of the small rag pickers (lot 310), a salt print, became the object of desire for several bidders, including the Metropolitan Museum, dealer Lee Marks and collector Michael Sachs. The price soared well beyond its estimate of 25,000-30,000 euros. At 137,750 euros (about $122,000), Michael Sachs had the prize in hand for the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, for which he buys. It was to set the second highest price of the morning.
Hans Kraus was the buyer on lot 312, a positive and negative of a Child Reading in the Courtyard, for 39,850 euros against a persistent phone bidder who could not get a last-second bid registered in time.
Except for those in poor condition, the self-portraits by Charles Negre all did well (although most were under my arbitrary cut-off of $25,000), for example the first one up, lot 313, a stereo of Negre in an oriental costume, sold to a woman in the room for 12,000 euros with an estimate of only 1,500-2,000 euros. I bought two self-portraits myself.
The first of the Moving Chimney Sweepers (Les Ramoneurs en Marche, Instantané anteriéur, lot 317), which was estimated at a more reasonable 30,000-40,000 euros, sold for 83,550 euros to Lee Marks over a very persistent Hans Kraus.
The next lot, the Moving Chimney Sweepers, lot 318, had been designated a National Treasure. It failed to find any bidders, even at 95,000 euros and was bought in (unsold). The French institutions had done too good a job at intimidation, as they were soon to find out. After the auctioneer announced the buy-in, the Musee d'Orsay tried to preempt the lot, but was told quite firmly that lots that were bought in could NOT be preempted. (Later, after the sale, the Orsay did negotiate the purchase through Jammes himself.) Clearly there would have been other bidders on the item had there not been a National Treasure designation and the level of intimidation seen here at this auction. I have personally never objected to the preemption available to the French institutions and respect the desire for a country to maintain its cultural heritage. However, I do find that the way the National Treasure designation was misused here and the other means to limit competition by some of the institutions involved, in particular the Orsay, reflected poorly on those associated with these matters. To my thinking, it was neither ethical nor fair, especially to the consignor Jammes who had made the efforts to preserve these fragile images when these very institutions were pointedly ignoring them. Now that photography has become so well accepted by the public at large, these same institutions want to eliminate competition to make up for their own lack of forethought and elitism in the past. Jammes and the Orsay had been in negotiations for the entire Negre archives reportedly even up until as late as this past November, but the parties could not agree to a price, which was a reported 2.5 million euros, or considerably less than half of what the archive wound up selling for (nearly 6.3 million euros). The archive was indeed a National Treasure, but the individual prints are not.
As I said in the last newsletter, after the buy-in on lot 318 and later on lot 328, and the subsequent blocked preemptions, several observers told me that they saw a representative from the Musee d'Orsay pass notes to an important American 19th-century dealer, who then bid only up to the reserve on a number of the lots, or left another bidder at just the reserve when possible. This "winning" bid was then followed promptly by a preemption by the Orsay. This pattern was repeated a number of times during the second day of the auction.
Lot 319, a Small Chimney Sweep, sold to a commission bidder for 75,500 euros (about $67,000).
Another genre image of an older peasant woman by a water gutter spout sold to Cindy Herron (San Francisco collector Paul Sack's buyer) in the room for 32,950 euros (over $35,000).
Collector Michael Sachs and French dealer Serge Plantureux battled it out on lot 323, a Coco Merchant viewed from the back. Sachs took it at 44,450 euros for the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
I bought the next lot a matched positive and negative of the more published Coco Merchant for 46,750 euros. I felt it was an amazing bargain early in the sale. Fortunately for me Michael Sachs had bought another positive of this image at an auction in Chartres.
Sachs did bid on lot 327, which showed the photographer Henri Le Secq and a small girl giving some money to an organ grinder. He got it for a very reasonable 46,750 euros, which as I recall was at the reserve price.
As I noted above, lot 328 was designated a National Treasure. Under those circumstances, the image was bought in at 65,000 euros, considerably under its low reserve. The Musee d'Orsay purchased it after the sale from Andre Jammes.
The genre images that followed of the Calabraise Woman and the Pifferari images were all somewhat interesting. I managed to buy a number of these images. Charles Isaacs took lot 335, three Pifferari, for 49,050 euros (about $43,000). Dealers Leon Herschtritt, Ezra Mack and others also got some of the images. All these particular "Italian genre" images had very strange things going on with the negatives, but I think these marks of early experimentation add to the flavor of the images.
Another National Treasure, lot 342, sold at 22,000 euros (26,050 with premium) versus the 20,000-25,000 euro estimate, and was promptly preempted by the Musee d'Orsay.
New York dealer Jill Quasha took lot 344, a self-portrait of Charles Negre, for 32,950 euros (just over $29,000), probably for the Clark Art Institute, for which she was reportedly bidding.
The amazing negative of a hand by Charles Negre sold for an incredibly cheap 58,250 euros to Hans Kraus, who most observers felt was bidding for New York City "hand" collector Henry Buhl.
There are lots of portraits after this that do not make my dollar cut-off, but two or three still bear mentioning. The first was a matching but flopped carte-de-visite sized pair (albumen and heliogravure, a process of which Negre was an inventor) of Count Olympe Aguado taking off his hat. Estimated at a realistic (maybe even stretching) estimate of 1,500-1,800 euros, the lot became a test of wills between American dealers Ezra Mack and Hans Kraus. Mack "won", taking the lot for mind-numbing 23,750 euros (over $21,000)!
The two portraits of important and influential 19th-century photography critic Ernest Lacan were almost overlooked, but not by French dealer Denis Canguilhem, who bought them, he told me later, "to keep in France." Frankly these were the kind of images that should have been preempted--important and rare to the history of French photography. Perhaps all the French museums have images of Lacan. That could be the only good excuse for such a lapse. A white hat (that means he is one of the good guys) goes to Denis for his concern for French photography, careful thinking and connoisseurship.
And the third portrait was another self-portrait, a jaunty image of a seated Negre with a top hat in his hand. It was my personal favorite self-portrait. It sold to Toronto dealer Jane Corkin for 23,750 euros (over $21,000) over the valiant efforts of German collector/curator Dietmar Siegert, who was her underbidder.
Lot 386 was bid up by Hans Kraus to the reserve of 20,000 euros plus premium and then preempted by the Musee d'Orsay.
I suspect there were lots of small bargains among many of these portrait lots. One lot (399) that looked to be a bargain at its 1,200-1,500 euro estimate quickly escalated into a bidding battle between German collector/painting dealer Daniel Blau and French dealer Denis Canguilhem. When the dust had settled (for my European friends, that means when it was all over), Blau had bought the image of a small boy playing a billiard game for 60,550 euros or over $53,500.
There apparently were quite a few of us that realized that the very next lot (400), with an estimate of only 1,500-1,800 euros, also contained a cropped version of lot 399. Dealers Mack Lee, Sarah Morthland, Mark Pagneux and I started bidding away. In the end Cindy Herren had picked up another group for her employer, collector Paul Sack, for 18,000 euros.
Perhaps the lot everyone in the room harbored hopes for was lot 406, Portrait de Chien (Portrait of a Dog). Estimated at a silly 1,000-1,500 euros, the lot had an entire page onto itself--a sure tip-off that Philippe Garner's strategic hand was on this estimate. Garner had told me after the sale that he tried to make "sensible, but not aggressive estimates, but there was plenty of room for tempting estimates at the same time," noting that low estimates did build excitement. He also pointed to the high visibility of some of these low estimate items, such as Le Chien. In any case, the strategy sure worked. The hook was in, the bait taken (I don't exactly know how to translate this one, except to say, it is relates to fishing and means that the approach got everyone's attention). Blau, Sachs, and Herschtritt all vied for the image, but in the end dealer Lee Marks could count on collector Howard Stein's deep pockets and bought the little pooch for 65,150 euros (or about $58,000). That's right: over 65 times the low estimate. As I said in the last newsletter: bid the item, not the estimates.
The Bibliotheque Nationale preempted lot 410, which was a good negative/positive of the Quai d'Orleans under construction and the first of the Paris architectural and sculptural images. It sold for only 9,000 euros, so it was a bargain for this important library. The BN preempted lot 416, a particularly beautiful print of Les Quai de la Seine, for 37,550 euros. Collector Dietmar Siegert had won it, but only to be deflated by the BN.
If there was one lot that was representative of the sale, it had to be the cover lot, Le Stryge (lot 420, photographer Le Secq on the tower with the gargoyles), which in my opinion, is one of the most important 19th-century images to have ever come up for auction. This was a beautiful positive and the original negative of this iconic image. Reproduced in many photography histories, the image was one of those named a national treasure, and rightly so in this instance, although clearly this designation held the price down. Before it was made a National Treasure, I felt that the image would set a new world's record for a single image (although admittedly with its negative), probably topping a million euros. Instead the phone bidder who I feel was the Sheik Al Thani (LO66) was the primary bidder, with Michael Mattis (also on the phone) the underbidder. But at a bid of only 313,750 euros (or about $278,000), the sheik found himself promptly preempted by the Musee d'Orsay. Obviously, this became the top lot of the day and held that spot through the rest of the hours that followed. It was the fifth highest lot of the two days of the Jammes sale.
Lot 424, the paper negative called L'Ange (or Angel) de la Resurrection, Notre Dame, Paris, set off a flurry of bids from Hans Kraus, Lee Marks, Daniel Blau and others. The estimate range was only 12,000-15,000 euros, and that got blasted away very early on. Somewhere along the line a commission bidder was also added into the mix. I am not sure, but I believe the commission bidder took this one, for a total of an astounding 110,000 euros (or well over $97,000), making it the fourth highest price of the afternoon's session. I believe this was the highest price ever paid for a single paper negative at auction; at least it was for a little while. Later in the afternoon, even this price would be eclipsed--and not once but twice!
Apparently bidding for himself, if Sotheby's top results list is a guide, Hans Kraus purchased (against several phone bidders) lot 432, a gigantic albumen print of the Pavillon de l'Horloge, Le Louvre (700 x 520mm), for a very steep 110,000 euros. The piece is arguably one of the biggest contact prints ever made from a single negative by an important photographer.
Lot 438 was simply a very beautiful positive and negative of Paris, Nouveau Pont d'Arcole pendant Sa Construction (or Paris, New Bridge of Arcole during its Construction). Connecticut dealer William Schaeffer, Charles Isaacs and I all coveted the lot, but in the end a bidder for the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam took the pair for 30,650 euros, against an anemic estimate of only 6,000-8,000 euros.
Another bridge (or pont) image got up into the top ten for the morning session, when lot 441, a nice negative of several of the bridges across the Seine in Paris, sold to Hans Kraus (again, apparently bidding for inventory) for 65,150 euros (over $57,000) against an estimate of 25,000-30,000 euros. Paper negatives were doing very well at this auction.
Lots of albumen prints of statuary by Charles Negre finished off the morning session, most of them pretty forgettable, and most of them fell below the low estimate. But the best piece, lot 447, developed into a small skirmish between Lee Marks and Hans Kraus, who wound up buying three others. Marks came out on top at 49,050 euros, again probably for collector Howard Stein. The image had the highest estimate and seemed to be the most interesting to me. There were a few very minor edge tears but the tones were very good on this one.
At this point we took a well-deserved break for lunch. The afternoon would get even more expensive with ten lots breaking into six figures--at least in euros.
When we came back in the afternoon, the geography shifted from Paris to the Midi de France, Negre's own native province.
Lot 463, which was used as a divider between the morning and afternoon session, became the afternoon's first major battlefield. Lee Marks and buyer Timothy Prus battled this paper negative up into new record territory once again. This time Lee Marks walked away with the lot at 115,750 euros, or over $102,000. This set a new world's record for a paper negative, the third such record of the sale. And we were not done yet.
Lot 472, seven studies of the Cloister of St.Trophime, also degenerated into a shoot-'em-up style fight between dealers Hans Kraus and Ezra Mack. After Mack thought the lot had been hammered down to him, Kraus forced the auctioneer to reopen the bidding, only to bid just one more increment, after which Mack took it at 40,000 hammer plus premium, for a total of 46,750.
The next lot (473) also came from this series and I thought it was entirely too dark, but it still sold to a man in the room (paddle 152) for 60,550 euros.
Timothy Prus came back on lot 478, an interesting image and the TWO negatives that it was made from. At 69,750 euros, this was double the midpoint of the estimate range.
I really liked lot 482, the façade of Saint-Gilles du Gard. Sam Lehr, son of dealer Janet Lehr, nailed this one at a very reasonable 28,350 euros. It was a great print.
Lot 484 was another of those lots that everyone was waiting for. Beaussant expert Pierre Marc Richard had whispered to me about it. Estimated at only 6,000-7,000 euros, it was certainly worth watching: a little beauty of an architectural play of shadows and light. Timothy Prus also got this one at 28,350 euros.
Lot 486 was a great paper negative by Negre, which showed the arched doorway of the abbey tower at Mont-Majour. With an estimate range of 30,000-45,000 euros, it became an object of contention between Hans Kraus, who was bidding for a private collector, and the phone (LO29). Up went the price, until LO29 had snagged it at a new world-record price for a paper negative at auction of 137,750 euros or about $122,000--good enough for third place for the afternoon session and over three times the high estimate. Clearly "the long-awaited arrival of the waxed-paper negative as a fully valued component of the 19th-century photography market," as collector Michael Mattis had said in the last newsletter, had indeed made it onto the world stage of the photography auction market at this sale.
The next lot (487) was a perfect fit for the collection of Gary Sokel, who looks for modernist-styled images--even in the 19th century. The image of the Chapel of St. Croix at Mont-Majour was a wonderful example of forms shaped by light, much like a Becher Water Tower. The positive and negative added to this sense of modernism. It was no wonder why it appealed to Sokel, who bought it for 81,250 euros against an estimate of only 22,000-30,000 euros.
I had really liked lot 489, a stairs up to a doorway at Mont-Majour. It was a great print and looked so much more interesting than in the catalogue. The positive/negative pair appealed apparently to a few others. French dealer Serge Plantureux was challenged by others in the room and on the phones, but in the end Plantureux captured the prize at 51,350 euros, over an estimate of only 5,000-8,000 euros. This had to be another of Garner's temptations, because it got a full-page treatment with the low estimate.
The next lot (490) got similar treatment, and not surprisingly it blew away the estimate of 7,000-9,000 euros and was brought in by Hans Kraus for 32,950 euros. This was typical of the action that afternoon when estimates meant little to the bidders.
Hans Kraus seemed to be the nemesis for Lee Marks several times during this auction. He was to drive her up again on lot 499. With an estimate of 25,000-30,000, the Hill with Cascading Falls amidst Trees (actually I think the French translated into something like "Hillside with Waterfall and Person"), Marks had to bid well into six figures to get this one: 126,750 euros or about $112,000. Apparently she bought it for collector Howard Stein. It was the fourth highest priced image of the afternoon.
There was not any let-up as the next lot also soared over its ludicrously low estimate of 300-500 euros. I had really thought the estimate was a typo when I reviewed the lot (500), a group of six positive prints, including three with their negative, and six other negatives. The images were of the port of Marseille. Timothy Prus snagged the group for 39,850 euros. That is about 80 times the high estimate. While a bit higher than I had pegged it, the bid was not off-the-wall (for my foreign friends: it was not a ridiculous bid at all).
I bought lot 504, a wonderful panoramic view of the Port of Toulon with early steamship.
On lot 505, dealer Robert Koch made his move. As I mentioned in the last newsletter, Koch was particularly interesting to follow in these sales. This lot was a superb and classic positive and negative pair of the Forest of Muy. Francoise Heilbrun noted the sense of light and mystery in this image. Koch picked it up for a song (translation: got it for very little) and 113,450 euros, or just over $100,000--one of the real bargains of the afternoon's session.
Lot 521 was one of those National Treasure lots. It appeared that someone near the Musee de Orsay again bid this up so that it could be preempted. At 45,000 euros, plus the premium, the Orsay took another one home.
Lot 522 was a very nice lot of five studies. Certainly the illustrated lot was the strongest in the group, which was estimated at 9,000-15,000 euros. In the end, it was French dealer Marc Pagneux waving madly to get the attention of the auctioneer who snatched this away from Hans Kraus for 51,350 euros.
The Orsay preempted Lot 523 of Grasse for 72,050 euros. This image had a snapshot quality that some (not me) found attractive.
Lot 524 is a masterwork that probably should have been preempted, but I guess one of the French museums must already have the positive (as if the negative did not count): the positive and negative pair of Les Moulins a Grasse. The pair has great presence, and the Grasse images were in strong demand here. Collector Michael Mattis on the phone took it from Hans Kraus, who was bidding for a private collector on this one. The final price of just under 160,000 euros or over $141,000 was a great bargain, perhaps the best bargain of the sale. It also made this lot the most expensive of the afternoon. Mattis had this to say about the piece: "The Negre "Oil Presses at Grasse" (positive-negative pair) is, to me, simply a perfect 19th-century photograph--a personal favorite dating back to my first dog-eared copy of Newhall's History of Photography."
After a while this National Treasure thing started to get on everyone's nerves. Collector Jay McDonald bid up the wonderful lot 525, one of the NT-designated lots to 69,750 euros (severely underestimated at 30,000-35,000 euros), but was still preempted by the Musee d'Orsay. Perhaps we all should have done this, because then the French museums would have had to come up with real money for these images, instead of the much-lowered values that resulted when bidders were scared off.
Hans Kraus bid up lot 526, Citronnier, Grasse, another National Treasure, to the reserve at 15,000 euros (plus premium), and the Musee d'Orsay actually then preempted it at the auction, but apparently later changed its mind. Kraus got an extraordinary and interesting bargain as a result of the Orsay's uncommon largesse. Rumor now has it that he will "donate" the lot to a French institution.
Up next was a big lot of 88 prints and negatives, including 46 glass plates, (lot 535). I missed who actually bought this one for 32,950 euros over an estimate of only 2,000-4,000 euros, but Timothy Prus and the phone had been bidding.
Ezra Mack bid up lot 539 to 11,400 euros, only to be preempted by the Orsay.
The Mediatheque de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine preempted the next lot, a lovely but small positive and negative pair depicting restoration on one of the entrances to Chartres Cathedral. The library got lot 540 for a reasonable 10,200 euros.
Another lot that I had had my eye on, but which rose well over its estimate of 7,000-9,000 euros, was 541, Ornaments from Chartres Cathedral. Pierre Apraxine, apparently bidding for the New York Metropolitan Museum, finally wrested the lot away from a persistent phone bidder at 32,950 euros.
Lot 544 sold for a strong 42,150 euros. Charles Isaacs and Sam Lehr vied for this one. In the end Isaacs won out.
Michael Mattis picked up a good group of undervalued large positives and negatives (perhaps the world's largest calotypes), including lots 546 (51,350 euros), 547 (42,150 euros), 550 (for a meager 6,600 euros because Sotheby's chose to show the bad print of the two-print lot) and 554 (for 13,200 euros).
Lot 551, one more National Treasure, was bid up to just the bottom of the estimate range and then preempted by the Orsay for 18,000 euros including the premium.
Mattis came back to take the very reasonably priced Azile (sic) group (lot 561) away from dealer Ken Jacobson for 49,050 euros. I estimated that the group was worth easily over $100,000, even though the estimate was only 20,000-30,000 euros.
Lot 564 was the only one of the rarer uncut Asile Imperial images that drew any bidding, but once it got started it did well. Dealer Jill Quasha probably bidding for the Clark Art Institute, Cindy Herron bidding for Paul Sack, and French dealer Denis Canguilhem were all in the hunt, with Quasha taking the prize at 81,250 euros, about double the midpoint of the estimate range.
By this time the National Treasure designation was wearing a bit thin, so on lot 566, a rare oversized Asile Imperial image, a number of players jumped in to push the lot to 110,000 euros. It was still preempted by the Orsay.
Three oil on paper paintings by Charles Negre of landscapes (lot 567) sold to a phone bidder (LO90) for 32,950 euros. Ezra Mack then bought the auto portrait of Ingres engraving plate (lot 568) for what seemed like a very low 1,560 euros. Apparently the BN also thought so and preempted him. Lot 570, a group of prints of artwork, was also preempted, this time by the Musee d'Art et Histoire de Grasse for 3,120 euros.
The three lots of hanging game birds were to provide another burst of competitiveness. Lot 575 was a print with glass plate negative. Some observers thought it was the most "modern" of the three. It sold for a bargain 39,850 euros to French dealer Denis Canguilhem. I watched patiently while Hans Kraus and Jill Quasha bid the next lot, the only salt print, way over its estimate of 20,000-30,000 euros. I expected to be bidding at the 110,000-euro mark but it went well over that, with Kraus getting the lot for 148,750 euros or about $131,000. It was to be the second highest price on a lot in the afternoon session. The last lot of the three was my final chance, but I was still to fall short. Jill Quasha had led the bidding on this one too, but the image was albumen, not salt, so I felt that the total value had to be quite a bit less than the second image that Kraus had taken. Quasha took the prize reportedly for the Clark Art Institute for a total of 104,250 euros or just over $92,000.
The next two lots contained big (and very heavy) heliogravure plates. The first (lot 578) sold to collector/dealer Daniel Blau for 39,850 euros. The next lot (579) sold for an identical amount to Hans Kraus, who was then preempted by the BN. In fact all the heliogravure items sold well, often at multiples of their estimates.
The two really big (both in size and in price) lots were the next to last two in the sale. Each was bought by Ezra Mack for the 100,000-euro reserve, plus premium (a total of 115,750 euros each or about $102,000. Mack followed up by buying the last lot of the sale (592) for 1,560 euros.
When I talked to Sotheby's expert Philippe Garner (more on him next newsletter), Garner told me that he "was very pleased with the results, and so were Mr. and Mrs. Jammes. They were not allowing themselves to build unrealistic expectations based on Jammes I."
Garner talked about "the solid results" including many individual records. He said that he was "enormously gratified by the range of interest, including institutional interest." He felt that the French government's National Treasure designation was "a backhanded compliment to the material offered."
When I commented on the fine organization of the sale, Garner fairly beamed when he told me: "We had a lot of work to do to run the sale with all the professionalism that people come to accept us for in London and New York. We were there to help steer it through."
Garner told me that Sotheby's set viewing records for the sale: both the totals for a photographic sale and for Paris for any sale, including the very popular Surrealism auction there.
If there was one personal disappointment for Philippe, it was that he could not actually be the auctioneer under the French system, which always has one person acting as the expert and introducing the lots and a separate auctioneer to actually conduct the sale. But Garner was very pleased with the choice of auctioneer: Alain Renner. Garner had worked with Renner in Monte Carlo and had a good working chemistry with the French auctioneer. "I can not think of anyone I would be more comfortable working with than Alain," Garner said. "I felt I was able to quite easily contribute to the marketing and pace of the sale."
When I heard that Philippe was not going to be the auctioneer, I was frankly disappointed myself. Garner is, in my opinion, the premier auctioneer on the photo side of the business. He understands pacing, drama and the material. But I have to admit that Renner won me over. He had an admirable sense of how to lower his voice and slow the pace momentarily to achieve dramatic results. Renner also alternated between excellent French and English with such facility as to keep all of his audience constantly involved. It never felt like the auction was dragging. And, thankfully, Garner was there to underpin the whole thing with his unrivaled photographic expertise.
As to the French market for photography, Garner told me that he thinks the sale "will stimulate French interest and participation. There was tremendous interest in terms of French media response. But did it translate into buyers? Only to a limited extent. Many previewed, and it broke records for Sotheby's Paris sales, but--except for the museums and a core of French dealers--ultimately it ended up a spectator sport for the French. This is still a market dominated by Americans." Garner told me that he was particularly disappointed that no French companies were in evidence at the auction.
But Garner had "no regrets, because the novelty of Paris added to the sense of excitement. The premises there are wonderful."
About the future of the market for photography, Garner told me: "We are dealing in a marketplace of dwindling supply, but some wonderful things have come to the market in the last few years. Because of the dwindling supply, this has boosted prices and readiness. Hungry potential bidders will bring sellers out of the woodwork."
If there was one regret over all of these escalating prices and the inability of an auction house to generally handle lower priced items, Garner noted it when he told me, "We are squeezing out the smaller buyer and selling to a more narrow market with deep pockets."
Garner obviously felt that the Niepce lot was the most important of the sale. "The Bibliotheque Nationale was absolutely right to preempt the Niepce lot. It was a perfect use of the preemption. This group forms a wonderful human story with important insights into Niepce and that period. It should provide the BN with opportunities for years for research and publication."
Garner also noted all the many other auction records at the two-day sale: highest prices on a paper negative (set four separate times during this sale), Victor Regnault, Camille Silvy, Edgar Degas, Gustave Viaud, Carlo Simelli, Nicephore Niepce, and of course, Charles Negre.
On paper negatives, Garner said to me, "It is easy to get enthused. When you are looking at the paper negative up to the light, the light brings the thing to life. The highlights on a positive print can only be as bright as the papers themselves, which in the 19th century were never that white. You had to manipulate the highlights by contrast or other forms of stealth. But the negative seen against the light has that extraordinary light source itself for viewing, which is very magical."
Garner credits, as I have, both Jammes and Hans Kraus for helping build support for the paper negative. After this sale, the market will definitely have to pay attention.
I also talked to several other people after the sale for their reactions. Collector Michael Mattis expressed the feeling of more than a few of us (of course, more eloquently than most of us) after the sale when he said, "Charles Negre is one of the three greatest 19th-century French painter-photographers (with Gustave Le Gray and Edouard Baldus) and is the broadest of the three in terms of style and subject matter. His genre scenes, for instance, are the first truly successful body of naturalist photography and anticipate by a century the 'snapshot aesthetic' promulgated by New York's MOMA, while Negre's proto-Cubist architectural views of the town of Grasse in the Midi prefigure Cezanne. That Jammes was able to keep the Negre estate more or less intact, and that it was being dispersed to the four winds over a four-hour stretch after 150 years (imagine a comparable event in the Old Master painting world!) made this the most exciting auction of my collecting lifetime. All of this to explain why Judy and I allowed ourselves to go a little nuts."
Mattis was not the only one "to go a little nuts" at this auction. It was clearly one of the most important buying opportunities in 19th-century photography, particularly the Negre archive portion of the sale. It will influence the market for this material for years to come.