SUMMER PARIS AUCTIONS SELL ECLECTIC MIX, WHILE
LE GRAY SEASCAPES PROVE TO BE BARGAINS; LEWIS CARROLL SALE DOES WELL FOR SOTHEBY'S; PHOTO SAN FRANCISCO SHOW ATTENDANCE UP MODESTLY IN TOUGH BAY AREA MARKET; CORRECTIONS AND APOLOGIES;
CHECK OUT THE IPHOTOCENTRAL WEBSITE CHANGES
SUMMER PARIS AUCTIONS SELL ECLECTIC MIX;
LE GRAY SEASCAPES PROVE TO BE BARGAINS
The weather in Paris for once cooperated marvelously, as it often does in the summer and rarely does other times of the year. The selections at Beaussant Lefèvre's auction and even Chartres were a bit weak this time; instead of at these normal venues, the real action took place later in the week at an auction house that has never had a photography auction. But more on that later.
Beaussant Lefèvre just did not have a very strong selection of material at this outing, especially considering that its vintage Cartier-Bresson group was pulled at the very last moment (apparently another casualty of the Magnum ownership claims on news photography archives in France).
Very few images broke over the 50,000-franc mark and almost all were bought in. The franc was running just over 7-1/2 to the dollar. Premiums in France are just a shade below 11%, and should be added to the totals below (when actually sold).
An Aguado paper negative of a building, now the house of Chanel, could only manage 52,000 francs against an estimate of 80,000-100,000 francs. It was a pretty boring image though.
A Samuel Bourne album of India, Cashmere and the Himalayas failed to hit its mark when it was bought in at 75,000 francs. The album was decent if not quite wonderful, but the estimates and reserve were just too high.
A Brassai cliché verre enhanced nude from the Transmutations series brought in 51,000 francs, even though it was not a vintage print as implied in the catalogue (the lateness of the print was mentioned though at the beginning of the auction), but a print from the end of the 1950s or even 1960s, and was not perfect by any means. But non-portfolio Transmutations have been selling very well, with good vintage prints probably worth from $30,000-$50,000 at the moment, so this print was still reasonable, despite it flaws and lack of age.
A ¼ plate daguerreotype of a group of women and children in front of a country house sold for 21,000 francs, plus the premium to Bruno Tartarin for his own collection.
A second ¼ plate dag of a single rose in a bottle seemed to sell to the phone for 42,000 francs, but apparently was bought in. The plate appeared to have been cleaned at one time and there were some scratches and light wipes.
Several photographs by Eugène Druet did well. His photograph of Rodin's Clenched Hand (Main Crispée) brought 55,000 francs from a phone bidder. His photograph of his camera and Rodin's statue Sainte Jean-Baptiste (St. John the Baptist) took in an additional 33,000 francs.
The various negatives from Robert and Regnault were all bought in. They all seemed overpriced for what they were. All were ok, but not really exciting.
A nice Teynard salt print of Karnak in Thebes, Egypt was bid up to 50,000 francs. I was not sure if this was actually purchased or bought in, but it seemed worth that price plus some.
A group of rare Marey's went two for three. I bought the best and rarest of the group, an original negative of a hurdler, dated July 18, 1886 and with the model's name in period ink, for double the estimate. Besides the negative that sold in the Jammes sale in London, this is the only other known original negative (as opposed to some copies on the market) that I know of to be offered for sale in perhaps three decades or more.
A group of X-ray images from 1897 sold for 20,000 francs.
Léon-Eugène Mehedin's panorama of the hillsides around Solferino c.1859 may or may not have actually been by him. Expert Marc Pagneux, who had the piece briefly for sale in his gallery before it was pulled and put up at Beaussant in a dispute between the heirs, told me that he thought the piece was actually by fellow photographer Langlois. But all this mattered very little. After a brief reshuffling of images between several lots, the panorama grew by one more panel to 17 total images. The images and prints were not stunning, but the sheer size and audacity of the photographer did impress. The lot, estimated at 40,000 to 50,000 francs, sold for 140,000 francs with several in the room vying against one phone bidder.
A group of 65 rather washed out salt prints by Sydney Richard Percy brought 90,000 francs from a phone bidder. If they were good prints, the price might have brought more than the entire auction did this outing.
Malvern, PA dealer Charles Isaacs bought a large bizarre group of spirit photographs.
And all of this was actually the best of the best.
The next day in Chartres things did not exactly pick up that much more over Paris.
The first lots that should have been of interest were a small group of Le Gray Egyptian scenes. Unfortunately the condition was not the best. The first lot, the entrance to the temple of Edfou, was a bit yellow but perhaps the best of the lot. It could only manage 35,000 francs plus the buyer's premium (again a little less than 11%). From there it went down hill with the three remaining Le Gray Egyptian scenics bid up to a meager range of between 13,500 and 27,000 francs.
Camille Silvy's Order of the Day, Army of Italy, brought a very reasonable bid, far below the over $100,000 price made at the Jammes sale for the same image, yet still about the equal of that print in quality. American dealer Charles Isaacs very astutely scooped it up.
Otherwise, except for a few good Misonne scenes, Rudomine nudes and one other Silvy portrait of a man, there was little to this sale.
The third sale in as many days was held back in Paris at Drouot again, but this time by an auction house that had absolutely no previous experience with photography: but they managed to scoop the other houses this time with a good group of Le Gray seascapes, one of the largest next to the Bearne's auction sale last year in Exeter. But this sale was largely unheralded and few Americans were in attendance, even though some of the key prints were in better condition than the Bearne's prints or most Le Grays that have made it to the market in recent years (outside of the Jammes collection, that is). Paris dealer Arnaud Delas of Hypnos Gallery was the expert for the auction.
The sale kicked off with an interesting group by the Duc de Massa, including several self-portraits of the duke. The Duc de Massa is a very interesting character and photographer, whose works remain largely unexplored.
But the first real action took place on a strong nude by Caneva. Robert Hershkowitz outlasted the competition and nearly broke the 200,000-franc mark (plus premium). Up to that point, this was the highest price paid for an item at auction here during this week. But that mark was to be broken several more times during this auction.
Charles Isaacs bought three more calotypes by Caneva in the next lot and then followed up by taking the next three lots: a Nadar of the composer Meyerbeer, and then two Le Grays. The second Le Gray (Ships of the French Fleet) matched Heshkowitz's mark on the Caneva.
Florence Penault of Galerie 19/21 took the next Le Gray of ships in the port of Sete.
The phones then took the next three Le Grays, which were in my opinion the best of the sale. One phone took two (The Ships of the French Fleet in the harbor at Cherbourg and the Yacht Imperial, the Queen Hortense) and another phone took the third (the Said at the Port of Sete). All three prints were superb and brought the top prices of the auction and the week, although all were still definite steals, considering they remained in six figures (French francs).
A French collector took the next Le Gray seascape, a rather poor print of Effet de Soleil Couchant a Maree Basse, for a mere 21,000 francs.
Finally Hershkowitz picked up the last Le Gray of the auction, an image that had sold at Christie's South Kensington just a few weeks before.
The last print of financial consequence was an anonymous image of a boat in the port of Rochelle. This attractive salt print went to Isaacs after a protracted bidding war. It brought over 10 times the low estimate.
That was the thing about this sale (and many auctions lately). The estimates meant very little. Some lots went for half their estimates and some went, like this last item, for 10 times or more. Take a lesson. Forget the estimates and bid based on what you think the item is worth. If you think it will be worth a lot more than the estimates, you can be assured that others will probably feel the same way. Likewise, overestimates are overestimates.
LEWIS CARROLL SALE DOES WELL FOR SOTHEBY'S
"No, no!" said the Queen. "Sentence first verdict afterwards." Sotheby's London's sale of the Liddell family's Lewis Carroll memorabilia, considered the largest collection of its kind, bought in a total of just over two million pounds sterling. Like the total, the prices below all include Sotheby's buyer's premium. The dollar was about $1.43 to the pound at the time of the sale. Most of the photographic items sold (32 out of 34 items, including after-auction sales), and the overall auction had just over an 81% sell-through rate (slightly higher if you include after-auction sales) by lot.
"CURIOUSER and curiouser!" cried Alice. A private American collector, who is a graduate of Christ Church College Oxford, purchased Alice's photographic scrapbook and dedication copy of Alice's Adventures Under Ground and much of the Christ Church related material with the intention of putting them on display "back where they belong in Christ Church." The album, which many thought might be bought in before the sale, sold for the reserve plus premium of £465,500 ($656,470). The album did have a number of good images of children in it, but many had condition problems and the remaining images were frankly a bit boring, making the album an iffy proposition. The dedication copy of Alice's Adventures Under Ground, specially bound for Alice by the author in white vellum and personally inscribed by him "to her whose namesake one happy summer day inspired his story", sold for £157,250 ($221,760).
"Let's go on with the game," the Queen said to Alice. Besides this dedication copy and a letter from Carroll to Alice Liddell (lot 88, which set a new auction record for a letter by Carroll at 91,250 pounds when it was sold to a American collector), it was Carroll's photography that brought in the big bucks, or should we say pounds?
The first image (lot 6), a hand-colored one of Alice seated next to a potted fern sold for 15,450 pounds. Eight prints are recorded of this image. A full five were in this sale.
Lot 8, a group of letters and memorabilia of Dean Liddell, Alice's father, including a group of images relating to Christ Church, went to the American collector noted above for 8,225 pounds.
For me the most interesting lots in the sale were the original glass plate negatives by Carroll, and the best of these was the marvelous positive and negative combination of lot 17, Edith, Ina and Alice on a sofa. Michael Sachs purchased this wonderful combo for the Tel Aviv Museum of Art for 86,000 pounds. The print was an exceptionally rich version of this scarce image (only six prints are known). Sachs had also bought lot 1, a letter from Alice to her mother for 5,875 pounds, and, at the Paul Walter's sale just a few weeks earlier--again bidding for the Tel Aviv Museum of Art--he brought a lovely print by Carroll of Xie Kitchin on a Sofa for 58,000 pounds.
Lots 18 and 19 were rather scratched glass plate negatives of Ina Liddell (lot 18) and Alice Liddell (lot 19), which sold for 6,600 and 10,800 pounds respectively, still a bargain, I suspect.
Lot 20, a hand-colored image of Alice Liddell as the Beggar-Maid, failed to find a buyer at the sale itself. The estimate range was 100,000-150,000 pounds. It had to rank as the top disappointment for the day. But not to worry; this image was sold after the sale.
A good negative of the cover image of Alice Liddell in Profile, Seated, Facing Right, was the next lot up, and it sold for a whopping 48,800 pounds--at that point a world record for a single glass plate negative at auction.
Not to be outdone the very next lot, another glass negative (Alice Wearing a Garland) sold for 53,400 pounds to a private collector! It too was in very nice condition. World records do not last very long any more.
"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked. "Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad." "How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice. "You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here." After the album (lot 32) sold for its mid-six figure reserve, several small photographs did fairly well (one might say ridiculously well considering the quality of a few).
Lot 33, a non-colored and cropped version of lot 6, sold for two and a half times its low estimate at 25,800 pounds. This was an example of the madness that seemed to affect some of the bidders. The image was pedestrian at best, and certainly not worth the attention and bids that it got.
Lot 34 was also a repeat: this time of lot 17. But this lot was a lightly printed cabinet card version, had no negative and was not even close to the print quality of the positive in lot 17, which was a dark untrimmed printing. Still, it was more interesting than the previous lot. It sold for 30,400 pounds, double its lower estimate.
Lots 35 (Ina Holding a Doll) and 36 (Edith Lying on a Sofa) were admittedly better, untrimmed prints. They sold for 21,200 and 39,600 pounds, respectively, which were at the bottom of the estimate ranges, and, in my opinion, worth the bids.
A new auction record was set for a photograph by Lewis Carroll when an uncolored version of his most celebrated study of Alice Liddell as The Beggar-Maid, sold for £179,500 ($253,140) to a private collector. This image was made in 1858 when Alice was just six years old. The albumen print more than tripled its presale low estimate of £50,000.
Lot 38 (estimate 15,000-20,000 pounds) and lot 39 (estimate 15,000-20,000 pounds) failed to go. The first wasn't so exciting and the second had condition problems, although both were very rare images (only two prints known of each).
One of the nicest of the single positive prints was lot 40, a group shot of Alice, Ina, Harry and Edith Liddell with Harry holding a cricket bat. Not surprisingly it did very well, pulling in 44,200 pounds sterling. Only two prints are recorded of this image.
"What is the use of repeating all that stuff," the Mock Turtle interrupted, "if you don't explain it as you go on? It's by far the most confusing thing I ever heard!" Lot 41, another hand-colored (by Carroll himself) and cased print of Alice Liddell and Fern (see lots 6 and 33) brought 22,350 pounds. Then lot 42, which contained still another print of this image in a triptych of the three Liddell sisters, sold for 21,200 pounds. Both lots drew bids at the bottom of their range of 20,000-30,000 pounds. One other of the Alice and Fern images was in the album, putting more than half of the recorded prints all in this sale.
Lots 43 and 44 were glass plate negatives in poorer condition than some of the others in the sale, but still interesting. They sold for 12,000 and 13,725 pounds respectively--a good price for the patient buyers who scooped them up.
The next group of Carroll images was of Alice at 18 years old (and the emphasis is on the word "old"). The first print, the best in the group, did astoundingly well. Against a presale estimate of 15,000-20,000 pounds, which some thought was actually reaching considering the subject was no longer a precocious youngster, lot 50 brought in an astonishing 48,800 pounds. Perhaps it was the Sotheby's catalogue notes that did it, indicating that this was Carroll's last session with Alice and Ina. However, other late portraits of Alice Liddell by Carroll sold at the bottom of the range or not at all. Oddly enough it was lot 53, a vignetted duplicate of the expensive lot 50, that failed to sell in this group at the sale, although it apparently sold soon afterwards. Lot 54, the second most interesting of the group made 16,600 pounds.
Two Julia Margaret Camerons did extraordinarily well considering their washed-out yellow condition (especially lot 56). Lot 56, Alice Liddell as Pomona, was sold for 17,750 pounds, and lot 57, King Lear and His Three Daughters, brought 28,100 pounds against an estimate of 10,000-15,000 pounds. Only provenance could be claimed as the excuse for these prices for prints at this condition level.
For those "Mad Hatters"; who got carried away and overbid at this auction, I will let the Queen of Hearts have the final comment: "Off with their heads!"
PHOTO SAN FRANCISCO SHOW ATTENDANCE
UP MODESTLY IN TOUGH BAY AREA MARKET
Photo San Francisco's audience was up about 250 people from last year's 3,500, despite show management being warned by the Fort Mason Center personnel that most shows this year at the Center were off 20% from previous years. But this second year show bucked the trend even in the face of some dire headlines from Hewlett-Packard and JDS Uniphase, which announced major layoffs in the Bay area the week of the show.
Most repeat dealers I talked to reported similar or slightly increased business from the previous year, although it seemed like it was a smaller number of actual buyers who made the sales happen. There was also a modest increase in the number of exhibitors and photography dealers. The weather was largely overcast with the typical San Francisco fog, but it managed to clear to bright blue skies on several occasions. The temperature is the low 60s to 70s was a welcome change from the sweltering heat and humidity of the East Coast. Clearly this is a show that will do very well once the local economy recovers from its technology industry-induced recession, perhaps even eventually overshadowing its older sibling Photo LA.
The show itself seemed to work out its first year kinks, as set-up and teardown went much smoother for most of the exhibitors. Show management even added some landscaping this year, although promised carpeting apparently never showed up.
Richard Misrach was one of the featured speakers. A panel session on photography collecting also provided some educational emphasis to this event.
The next major exhibition on the West Coast by Cohen's show management will be Photo LA, which will be held January 17-20, 2002 at the Santa Monica Civic Center.
CORRECTIONS AND APOLOGIES
Michael Sachs let me know that he was not the underbidder on the Roger Fenton Billiard Players in the Paul Walter's sale. Although he bid up the lot, he indicates that it was a phone bidder who provided the last bit of competition for Michael Wilson and the Getty.
Dealer Robert Hershkowitz took umbrage with my coverage of him in issue #29 on the Pescheteau-Badin auction. While I think that what I said was accurate, there is sometimes a fine line between dramatizing coverage by mentioning people and the personal observations that may make dry auction details sound exciting or funny, and denigrating a person--something that I never wish to do. As I have said in past newsletters, I have great respect for Hershkowitz's eye and many contributions to the field (his book The British Photographer Abroad: The First Thirty Years, is one of my selections for best book on English Photography in the I Photo Central web site's section on Collecting Issues and Resources). What I may find simply a little amusing, others may view quite differently. My genuine apologies to Robert if I stepped over the line. It was not my intention to hurt him in any way.
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