Issue #76  9/7/2004
The Rest of European Spring Auctions: Bloomsbury and Tajan

It seemed like everyone was trying to take advantage of the new photo-london fair and the absence of Sotheby's from the auction schedule. Bloomsbury, which occasionally includes photographs in its book auctions, scheduled a straight photography auction on Friday, May 21st. It was slim pickings here, but some bargains could be had.

Most of the pre-sale excitement surrounded the 280-print lot of Louis Rousseau and Philippe-Jacques Potteau anthropological images. Estimated at a rather steep 60,000-80,000 pounds sterling, many thought the lot would go unsold. But with just seconds to go for the lot, Timothy Prus walked in the door, raised his hand at the reserve price of 55,000 pounds (plus premium) and then promptly exited. It was rather anti-climatic, although Bloomsbury's management obviously breathed a sigh of relief.

After the auctions here in London, I took the Eurostar back to Paris. After attending the weekend photo fair at Bievres, I focused on the auction scheduled at Tajan.

It was certainly not the best auction ever scheduled here (total sales 171,733 euros including premiums), although the experts (Paul Benarroche and Serge Kakou) did try to make prices more reasonable than in some past auctions, lowering the prices on some lots that had failed to go in earlier auctions (although largely to no avail because of the low attendance; I was virtually the only American in the room).

Lot 46, an album of Spain and Portugal by J. Laurent and others, brought a bid of 4,573 euros from Spanish image collector and fellow auction expert Christophe Goeury.

Lot 83, four albums of South Seas images from the turn of the century, touched off a battle between Serge Kakou, a collector of such images, and Serge Plantureux, who was bidding for German dealer Daniel Blau, himself an avid collector of this material. Kakou took the lot at a steep 8,423 euros--well over the high estimate.

But the real action here was focused on two very rare and important Gustave Le Gray images of the barricades at the battle of Palermo, Italy. Lot 92 was absolutely spectacular despite having some conservation work (photo and mat cleaned and a minor retouch made on the upper right of the image). The phones were busy, including several NY-based photo dealers and Connecticut collector Bruce Lundberg. In the room Serge Kakou for Daniel Blau was also active. I had expected to be a participant, but after a call from Bruce over the weekend, I realized that I would have to remain on the sidelines on this one. Estimated at a very low and obviously tempting 15,000-20,000 euros, the price kept crawling upward until it hit 46,000 euros (55,353 euros with premium or about $67,500). Lundberg had won the prize--still a reasonable price for such a dramatic and important print.

Paris-based dealer Csaba Morocz scooped in and "stole" the second lot by Le Gray with other frantic bidding in the room. Although I thought it to be a little boring compared to the first image of Palermo, it was still rare. Morocz bought the image for an institution at 20,456 euros, calling it "a bargain price."

The last big lot at Tajan was a 24-print Polaroid portfolio from Guy Bourdin, who has been hot since he died and the estate has largely stopped most sales. This one had impeccable provenance and so was able to sell for 14,440 euros, just a little under the low estimate.