Issue #76  9/7/2004
Bonhams London Takes in Just Under 360,000 Pounds Against 583 Lots

Bonhams London launched an ambitious (perhaps overly ambitious, some might say) photography auction here, with an afternoon session just after Christie's multi-owner sale. The huge sale of 583 lots only managed to eke out a meager 41% sold rate, and that included a run of 57 that had no reserve. The totals for the auction were not bad at about 360,000 pounds sterling, including buyer's premium, but certainly must have been a bit of a disappointment for the house, which had scrambled to put on such a large-scale sale.

Bonhams is undergoing a major facelift here in London. Not only is it moving to cement its spot at number 3 among the auction houses here, but also its new digs are certainly going to be impressive when finally finished. In the meantime, this giant auction had to take place amidst the construction dust and debris, and the viewing suffered from lack of proper lighting and a crowded jigsaw puzzle-like wall of images.

The staff was pleasant and accommodating, but the viewing conditions were difficult for material that was highly erratic at best. But there were some excellent opportunities for buyers here, as long as you previewed very carefully. I kept bringing over prints to view at the one small window only to find some major stain or problem that didn't show up readily either in the catalogue or even on the wall. I suspect that future auctions will not have this problem after construction is finished.

In any case, the auction did have a few highlights. The top lot of the sale was an excellent set of 36 images by the 19th-century Australian photographer J.W. Lindt. Oddly enough I actually represented this group about two years ago. Estimated at 45,000-62,000 pounds, the group (lot 46) sold to the phone just over its low estimate for 53,775 pounds including premium. The pound was about $1.80 and the prices below will include premiums. I will only cover those lots that made at least 5,000 pounds with the premium on this sale.

Lot 88, a 19th-century album of British and Dutch plantation life in Malaysia and Indonesia, sold well at 6,573 pounds, well above its estimate of 2,000-2,500 pounds.

Two albums of British tanks and mechanized vehicles (lot 111) rolled over the competition and brought 7,170 pounds, about its low estimate.

A Paul Strand image of driftwood made for Conde Nast and House and Garden and unsigned sold for a strong 9,560 pounds to the phone.

A print of Le Mome Bijou by Brassai that was printed later (probably in the 1960s) and was crinkled and considerably thumbnailed still sold for 5,975 pounds to a commission bidder. That bid was just to the low estimate.

Lot 299 a collection of 178 prints of the Sydney Opera House by Max Dupain from the 1960-70s apparently sold afterwards for 23,900 pounds (its low estimate plus premium), although my note says it was bought in at 13,000 pounds.

The sale continued on Thursday night. During that session, lot 421, Dupain's famous Sunbaker image in a 14-1/2 x 16 inch late 1970s printing, sold for 7,409 pounds, which is a new world auction record for a single image by Dupain.

Contemporary work took over then with some spectacular failures and some similar successes. Rineke Dukstra's non-descript portraits, each of men who appear roughed up (lot 541) sold slightly over the low estimate at 10,516 pounds.

Tracey Moffatt's Something More, No.1 (lot 557) sold for a respectable 17,925 pounds. And the next to the last selling lot (569) was a 360 Degree Panorama of Sydney Harbour from Martello Tower at Fort Denison (from dawn to sunrise, no less). It sold under its estimate at 9,560 pounds.