Issue #61  8/5/2003
Tajan Sale Sells Archives, Image of Cézanne

Tajan's sale on June 2nd also proved to be much of the same with a total of only 181,942 euros (about $213,000 with the dollar even lower for this sale at $1.17). The buy-in percentage here was also very high (54.4%), although marginally better than at the earlier Yann Le Mouël auction. The experts here are Paul Benarroche and Serge Kakou.

The huge archives of Henri Parmentier, who was an architect and chief of the Archeological Service of the French School of the Far East, sold for 18,050 euros but then was promptly preempted by the Archives de France. Preemption, as I have explained many times before, is the French law that allows public institutions to simply preempt the winning bid of any auction lot in France. The loser gets nothing (except everyone's consolations), but pays nothing too. It is a good way to get things fairly for museums and other institutions even though it is a bit frustrating for bidders from time to time.

Lot 65 was the next lot above 6,000 euros. It was a fine group of seven Russian types by Yvan Raoult. It sold to the phone for 8,183 euros (about $9,600).

A huge two-album group of 199 prints of the English-Boer War in South Africa was bought by French book dealer Serge Plantureux for 7,461 euros (about $8,700). This was well above the estimate of 4,000-5,000 euros.

The next lot, a very fine group of small East African portraits from about 1920, was sure to climb over the estimate of only 2,000-3,000 euros. These were all little gems. A commission bidder took the item for 7,461 euros (about $8,700) over the very determined bidding of Danish dealer Andrew Daneman.

There was another Le Gray in this sale, lot 119, but it was in one of the worst conditions that I have seen a Le Gray at auction. The print itself was flat and uninteresting. It had foxing and had apparently been cleaned and repaired and taken off of its mount. There were a total of three very long repaired tears at the left and top of the image. The catalogue listing noted restoration and lack of mount, but I wonder if the commission bidder it sold to did the same. Of course the price was a mere 4,813 euros ($5,630), but frankly I would not want it even at that low price.

The series of terribly overpriced photographs of Zola's daughter Denise (featured on the cover of the catalogue) all bought in, as they should have. I think $6,000-$10,000 each is too much to pay for small faded pictures of a cute little girl.

Lot 142 was an interesting published image of Paul Cézanne by Émile Bernard. Although it had one small spot of white ink on it, it was still a good print and an interesting image easily worth the price paid by a phone bidder of 9,627 euros (about $11,260).

There were a number of bargains here and the experts did note changes in dating, etc. to buyers as they themselves were made aware of these things, which is something not always seen in French auctions. But it is always about the material when it comes to auctions, and this series of French early summer auctions would certainly not rank with the best of the past.

Paul Benarroche, one of the Tajan experts, is putting his own personal collection up for sale here on October 10th, which will be Tajan's next photography sale. I think that major collector's collections, such as this one, will now replace primary sources as the top material at auction. There just isn't much coming out any more from primary sources, and the rest of the auctions are more like cast-offs these days. The only question that remains for major individual collections is "Did they have any taste?" Andre Jammes certainly answered in the affirmative, but will other collections do as well? We'll have to see: material always tells.