Issue #51  11/27/2002
At Christie's The Largest Single Sale Also Has High Buy-Ins

Christie's weighed in with the largest single sale of the season--428 lots--with a number of significant pictures under the hammer. But their decent total of $2,438,685 was also offset by a sobering 53% buy-in rate. One of the highlights of the sale was a group of 73 pictures from the Houston-based collector Alexandra R. Marshall, but these images seemed to be a little too aggressively estimated, perhaps because of some unhelpfully high reserves, and bought in at an even higher rate of 62%.

One of the few 19th-century lots offered by Christies' was a Julia Margaret Cameron of Paul and Virginia, which sold to an absentee bidder for $23,900.

The first significant lot offered was Alexander Rodchenko's Okhotnyi Row, 1932, which went to German dealer/collector Hendrik Berenson for $77,675 over a phone bidder, the fourth highest price of the sale. Then Rodchenko's Ball Bearing Plant brought $57,360, under the low estimate, but good for sixth place. The phone snagged this one over former Christie's photo head Rick Wester.

Next came pictures from the Marshall Collection. A complete set of Camera Work passed at $80,000 (estimate $100,000-$150,000), but there was strong after-sale interest. Man Ray's Untitled (Mannequin with sphere and cone) also passed ($40,000-$60,000). Then his Calla Lilies, a striking solarized image, was fought over intensely with Thea Westreich, who was on one phone, snagging it for $185,500, well over the high estimate of $100,000, and taking home the title of top lot of the sale. She had to battle another persistent phone bidder to get it.

Josef Sudek's In the Workshop fetched $47,800 from a phone bidder over collector Danny Castro. And a Frantisek Drtikol pigment print nude from 1929 sold, also to the phone, for $62,140, the fifth highest price of the sale. And the last of the big lots from the Marshall Collection, Irving Penn's Man Lighting Girl's Cigarette burnt up the charts as it topped out at an inexplicable $50,190 on an estimate of $10,000-$15,000.

The small group of Ansel Adams prints had mixed results as a 16"x20" Moonrise passed--at barely half its low estimate of $50,000--as did Portfolio VII. But Portfolio IV brought $53,775, well over its high estimate. Then Edward Weston's Sunrise, Dunes, Oceano, passed ($50,000-$70,000), but Howard Greenberg wrestled Weston's Egg Slicer ($25,000-$35,000) away from Carol Ehlers, who was presumably bidding for the LaSalle National Bank Collection, for $50,190. And just before lunch Jill Quasha made off with the under-appreciated Lisette Model's 42nd Street--Modern Tempo for $14,340, just over the high estimate.

The afternoon session also had its moments. A 1940-ish print of Lange's Migrant Mother found a home with an order bidder for $141,500, the second highest price ever paid for this image and the second highest lot of the sale. A printed-later Alfred Eisenstaedt of Children at a Puppet Theater in Paris was the subject of an intense phone battle. Before the dust had cleared, one of them had paid an astounding $26,290. I do not know, but that may be a world record for a printed later print.

A Philippe Halsman of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor Jumping brought $21,510 from a phone bidder, which was at the high edge of the estimate range. This edged a previous record for this image set by Christies' in 1999 when it brought $17, 250 for a much larger version. A phone bidder also snatched Penn's Black and White Vogue cover away from Peter MacGill for $57,360, over the high estimate and good for seventh place. Some Penn prices seem definitely on an ascent.

But William Eggleston's Graceland portfolio ($180,000-$280,000) is still in the house, after passing a $170,000, along with his portfolio Troubled Waters ($80,000-$100,000), which passed at $50,000.

Pictures of women fared better as Deborah Bell seduced Garry Winogrand's portfolio Women Are Beautiful away from collector Michael Mattis, for $28,680. And Helmut Newton's unique diptych "Sie Kommen" (Dressed) & (Naked), Paris, went home with a phone bidder for $95,600 (third place).

Among contemporary work, Michael Rovner's unique digital print, Border, brought almost four times its high estimate at $41,825, as seven separate phone bidders were in play for the piece.

Leila Buckjune, the Head of Christie's Photographs Department, had a live-to-fight-another-day attitude. After all, Christie's did relatively well with most of their big lots, but the economic doldrums--and that 800-pound gorilla coming up that very evening--took their toll.