Issue #74  7/18/2004
Part One: European Action Busy, But Shows Erratic Results

It was a hectic schedule on both sides of the Channel this Spring and early Summer, including a half dozen or so Paris auctions, five London auctions, the table-top London Photo Fair, the new and much larger Photo-London show and the Bievres outdoor photographica market--not to mention several book fairs that often attract photography dealers and collectors.

In Paris Millon, Yann Le Mouel and Piasa each held their auctions prior to London's.

Millon had an important group of early images by Jacques Lartigue, which were reprinted a bit later, probably around the late 1920s or early 1930s by Lartigue. The photographs drew considerable attention, although the price tags were very steep at about 45,000 euros plus premium. However one did sell by phone. Christopher Goeury is the expert here.

Yann Le Mouel had a few bargains, but even more buy-ins. I do not recall anything going over 5,000 euros here. Viviane Esders is the expert at this house.

Piasa was the auction that got all the real attention. It featured perhaps the finest group of Auguste Salzmann salt prints to ever come on the market. Although the lots were highly erratic, most of the best prints exhibited a rich reddish color that was extraordinary for these Blanquart-Evrard-produced prints. Unlike a lot of auctions, it was the room that dominated this sale and not the phone or commission bidders. All the prices below were in euros (currently $1.24/euro) and do not include the premium of 20.332%. You can multiply the prices below by 1.5 to get the total equivalent in dollars including premium. For the most part, I will only report on the items that made 9,000 or more euros.

There were a number of familiar faces in the room and some less known. Neil Folberg, Hans Kraus, Jr., Robert Hershkowitz, Laurent and Leon Herschtritt, Baudoin Lebon and myself were among the active dealers who bought at this sale, although there were a few other unsuccessful bystanders. A number of collectors and at least one institution were also bidding directly and by proxy.

Michael Sachs, who bought a major group of Salzmann's just two years ago, was the most active buyer at the sale, buying well over half of the value of the sale. Sachs was strictly representing the Tel Aviv Museum of Art at this sale, rather than buying for himself. He started off with lot one, Jerusalem Enceinte du Temple, Cote Ouest, Heit-el-Morhaby. He had to fight off the active bidding of Eric Touchaleaum of Galerie 54. The final price was 10,700 euros (Piasa's web site reports it inaccurately at 1,700 euros) over an estimate of 3,000-5,000 euros.

Touchaleaum came back on the very next lot (Jerusalem Enceinte du Temple, Arche du pont salomonien qui reliait Moria a Sion) and took it for 5,200 euros. Apparently, Touchaleaum is planning a show of "walls", both Salzmann's and contemporary work in his Paris gallery, which features architectural decoration and details. It will be interesting to see if this non-photography gallery can get its clients to become interested in this medium.

Touchaleaum again showed his strength outlasting Michael Sachs on the very good lot 6. Estimated at a very reasonable 4,000-6,000, it sold for 13,700 euros--still a good buy.

A French collector in the room bought lot 8 (a three-part panorama of Jerusalem Enceinte du Temple) for 11,500 euros, versus an estimate of 4,000-5,000.

Touchaleum battled Sachs for lot 14, Jerusalem Enceinte du Temple (Details de l'appareil de la Piscine probatique), pushing the price to 9,200 euros versus an estimate of only 4,000-6,000 before the French dealer closed off the bidding.

Another very good print, lot 17, Jerusalem Vallee de Hinnon (Inscription Tumulaire Grecque 2), drew some fireworks. Estimated at 4,000-6,000, UK dealer Robert Hershkowitz took on Touchaleaum, pushing him to 12,000 euros before the French dealer took the prize.

I battled Michael Sachs for the very beautiful lot 19, Jerusalem Vallee de Hinnon (Details de la fries de la retraite des Apotres), but was beaten back when it tripled its estimate at 9,000 euros--still a very good bargain, considering the fine quality of the print.

Robert Hershkowitz snagged lot 25, the abstract Jerusalem Piscine de Siloe, for 11,500 euros--well over the 2,000-3,000 estimate.

Michael Sachs took lot 26, Jerusalem, Village de Siloam, away from Sam Stourdze, but had to go to 8,500 euros (estimate 2,000-3,000) to do it.

Many of the Jerusalem Valee de Josaphat images soared well over their estimates. Michael Sachs bid 8,000 euros for Tombeau de Zacharie; 10,200 for Tombeau de Saint Jacques; and 6,900 for Tombeau d'Absalom. French dealer Sam Stourdze bidding for Canadian collectors Harry and Ann Malcomson bought the following lot (details du tombeau d'Absalom) for 8,200 euros. This latter print was the strongest of the group in my estimation. Stourdze reportedly had three different clients he was advising and bidding for during this sale (two American collectors, reportedly Paul Sack and Gary Sokol, and the Canadian couple).

Another great image and print was lot 36, Jerusalem Tombeau des Rois de Juda (Frise superieure et centrale). Touchaleaum battled Sachs on this one and the French dealer came away with the lot although at a pricey 16,500 euros (estimate 5,000-6,000), almost $25,000. It was a repeat session on the next lot, the equally fine Jerusalem Tombeau des Rois de Juda (Encadremont de feuillages et de fruits), but Touchaleaum had to go to 20,500 to win this one. Both lots, unlike other lots relating to the tomb of the Jewish King, were stunning prints as well as strong images.

Although frankly not as strong a print as some of the others in the sale, the iconic cover lot (lot 40, Jerusalem Escalier Antique Taille dans le Roc) was bound to be a battleground. In the end it was Touchaleaum that conquered, but at a price more than triple the low estimate at 22,000 euros, which was a new world record for Auguste Salzmann at auction. The price in dollars with premium is nearly $33,000. Not to worry, this record too would fall before the end of the sale.

The phone played one of its few roles of the day on lot 42, Jerusalem Tombeau des Juges. Estimated at a very low 4,000-5,000 euros, the rather austere image (decent but not stunning print) sold to the phone over Touchaleaum's persistent bidding for 19,000 euros (just under $30,000)--almost another world record.

Lot 48, the important Jerusalem Sarcophage Judaique, sold to UK dealer Hershkowitz, who had to battle Michael Sachs for the image to 15,000 euros, over an estimate of 3,000-4,000 euros.

Sam Stourdze was able to get lot 51, Jerusalem Arc de l'Ecce Homo, for one of his American clients for 12,500 euros (estimate 3,000-4,000) after fighting off a French collector.

Michael Sachs came back into the fray with the important lot 58, Jerusalem Saint Sepulcre (Details des chapiteaux), for 9,000 euros, which was well over the estimate of only 2,000-3,000. Sachs also picked up lot 62, Jerusalem Saint Sepulcre (Chapelle du Calvaire), for 8,500 euros over Sam Stourdze's bid. It was a fine print and worth the money.

Lot 76, Jerusalem, Eglise de Saint Marie Madeleine, estimated at only 3,000-4,000 euros, had great color but a few light spots. Sachs nailed this one down for the museum, but at a cost of 14,000 euros.

Stourdze tried again for his clients on lot 78, the rich print of Jerusalem, Auberge d'Allemagne, but Michael Sachs was too strong at 13,000 euros (estimate 5,000-6,000 euros).

Sachs also picked up lots 91, Jerusalem, Fontaine Arabe 1, for 12,200 euros; lot 92 Jerusalem, Fontaine Arabe 2, for 10,500; lot 93, Jerusalem, Fontaine Arabe 3, for 7,800; and lot 94, Jerusalem, Fontaine Arabe 4, for 11,000.

Lot 95, Jerusalem, Rue du Quartier Arabe 1, consisted of two prints. While the color was good in both, one of the prints was actually doubled when the photographer's camera moved and the other just appeared to be a bit dark and muddy for my taste. It still went to 12,000 euros over an estimate of only 2,000-3,000. Sam Stourdze bought it for an American client over Sachs' underbid.

Lot 96, Jerusalem Ornements Arabe 1, was certainly an excellent print with strong color. Estimated at 5,000-6,000, it was sure to do well, but I think the print soared to a level that I doubt the auction expert or consignors expected. Michael Sachs fought off a French collector for this prize, which he took home for the Tel Aviv Museum of Art for a 30,000 euro (nearly $45,000) price tag and a new world auction record for Salzmann.

The rest of the sale was fairly anticlimactic after this lot.

As Michael Sachs told me afterwards, "It was an opportunity that I do not expect to occur again in the foreseeable future, especially since the image quality of the plates in the album was generally of significantly higher quality than in the two albums in institutions that I am familiar with. There were a few important images that I did not bid on because the museum already has them."

Marc Pagneux was the expert on the Salzmann portion of the sale.

One more item added to the Salzmann's at the end of the auction was a daguerreotype of a young military cadet by Gustave Le Gray, which expert Michele Chomette introduced. The only problem was the ridiculous price tag (estimate 30,000-35,000 euros). If it did not have the Le Gray stamped into the plate, it would not have brought a nod at 1,000 euros. Cute yes, important no. It failed to go at 25,000.

In the end, the sale sold 100% of its Salzmann's, and only the overpriced daguerreotype by Le Gray marred the otherwise perfect record. The total take was just over 729,000 euros including the premium, or about $900,000. That was a very strong showing for a Paris auction.

Then it was on to London for the fairs and the auctions there. I will cover those and the rest of the French auctions in the next newsletter after I return from Photo San Francisco.