LONDON AUCTION REPORT, INCLUDING BEARNE'S CRAVEN SALE; BOKELBERG COLLECTION SOLD; COLLECTOR FACES LOS ALAMOS FIRES; MARRIAGE/PHOTOGRAPHY NY STYLE
FENTONS AND MOHOLY-NAGY'S AT SOTHEBY'S
The action at Sotheby's focused on Roger Fenton and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, although a Man Ray "Noire et Blanche" (Just how many of these things are around any way? I've seen four separate ones come up for sale over the last two years.), a Talbot photogenic Leaf, and another Beato Lucknow album created their own flurry of bidding activity.
So in descending order here are the top lots including their new and much higher premiums.
The very top lot, Moholy-Nagy's iconic "Berlin im Winter vom Funkturn Aus" (Lot 152), sold for about ten times low estimate at 190,500 pounds sterling, or about $300,000. The duel between two bidders was by phone, after New York dealer Edwynn Houk played stalking horse for them. Condition, as with most of the Moholy-Nagy images, was certainly not perfect (foxing on the borders and a "white" stain on the upper right of the image), but then where could you find another one for sale? The lot sold to L052, which was a very active number for the sale. The sheik?
Lot 150, a Moholy-Nagy nude study, went again to the phone with Houk underbidding. Price? A mere 163,000 pounds (a little over $255,000) against an estimate of 50,000-70,000 pounds.
Man Ray's Noire et Blanche (Lot 144), 1926 brought a bid of 146,500 pounds or over $230,000 from Edwynn Houk. Ironically his former partner Barry Friedman sold a matched negative and positive of this image for a mere $607,500 at Christie's New York in October of 1998 during a stock market "adjustment." It has been reported that Friedman was unhappy at the time with the "low" result.
The nineteenth century was not to be denied a top spot: William Henry Fox Talbot's photogenic photogram of a plant c.1839 sold for a stunning 130,000 pounds or about $205,000 versus the estimate of 20,000-30,000 pounds. It was sold to L052 on the phone, against strong bidding by Hans Kraus, Jr. It was a hauntingly beautiful image that Sotheby's originally was allowing to be viewed under harsh spotlights until its fragility was pointed out. Then the Sotheby's staff quickly and professionally made adjustments. The image was then viewed, as it should be, in a darkened room. This has happened a few times here. I hope Sotheby's pays a little more attention to such situations in the future.
Moholy-Nagy was back in the ranked lots with Lot 156, Rolling the Gangplank, Scandinavia going for 71,700 pounds (over $113,000) versus the estimate of 15,000-20,000 pounds. It sold to L052, with collector Michael Wilson, Edwynn Houk and others competing for the image.
L052 took the next biggest lot, an album, which contained a fine and rare portrait of Garabaldista, probably by Gustave Le Gray (Lot 117), for 67,200 pounds (about $107,000). It had been estimated at a low 15,000-20,000 pounds. Dealer Jill Quasha was persistent in her losing battle against the phone bidder, probably Al Thani.
The top Fenton lot was Lot 49, No.217 Harbour of Balaklava, which went to the phone for a rather astounding 63,750 pounds sterling against the admittedly low estimate of only 3,000-5,000 pounds. That's over $100,000. The print was a marvelous purple color in excellent condition with only a hit of foxing in the top right. It was, for me, the print of the Sotheby's sale. The phone had competition from Hans Kraus bidding for a major collector and another phone bidder.
The Felice Beato album of 75 photographs of Lucknow was bound to go higher than its low estimate of 15,000-20,000 pounds. And it did: 60,300 pounds or approaching the magic $100,000 mark. Bid up by producer Michael Wilson, it still fell to a phone bidder. Perhaps Wilson was content with his album from last year and many other Beato Lucknow images.
Moholy-Nagy was back with his Repartur am Pont, Transbordeur (Marseille) (Lot 154) bringing in 53,400 pounds sterling from a U.S. bidder on the phone. And then his Baumbeschneiden im Frnhjahr (try saying that one three times fast) or Tree Cutting in Spring (Lot 153) sold for an identical amount to another phone bidder. By the way, Philippe Garner's pronunciation is impeccable. I don't know how he does it. Of course, most of my European friends would tell me that I wouldn't know the difference if he did mispronounce one.
The rest of Sotheby's non-top ten lots are just with the hammer price and don't include the premium. I've given up trying to figure out the new complicated systems--just what the auction houses would like us to do. So I just basically figure that the dollar amount after premium is about double the hammer price in pounds.
Moholy-Nagy and Indiana dealer Lee Marks both scored one with lot 168 Special Effects (the cover lot) at 44,000 pounds. There were a number of interested underbidders on this one including dealers Robert Koch and Janet Lehr.
Then Fenton hit again with Lot 45 going for 42,000 pounds to Hans Kraus, who was bidding for a major collector. This was the famous (or infamous) Valley of Death.
Michael Sachs then took Lot 53, a rich Head of Harbour at Balaklava, for 32,000 pounds--way over estimate again but still a wonderful print. I dropped out at about 22,000 pounds. These were strictly collector prices.
Finally, Edwynn Houk bought another Moholy-Nagy (Lot155) for 32,000 pounds against a fairly large group of players.
All in all, Sotheby's had a mixed day, selling only 61% of their lots but for 1,849,670 pounds sterling, or nearly $3 million--not bad, considering. Lot 122, the Durandelle Opera group, was the biggest lot by estimate to fail to find a bidder at 28,000 pounds.
IT WAS ALMOST ALL 19TH CENTURY FOR CHRISTIE'S
If only the promise of the catalogue's daguerreotypes had been fulfilled, oh what an auction we would have seen! From the catalogues it looked like Christie's had the more interesting of auctions, but it was not to be. The condition on most of the large plate European dags was frankly dreadful. They had almost all been cleaned in the past in a very mediocre way. The daguerreotypes were early and may have been ungilded, which in turn may have complicated any cleaning effort.
In any case, two of the Joseph-Philbert Girault De Prangey and one of the anonymous Nantes views still made it into the top ten lots, and most of the others received pretty hot attention considering (or should I say despite) their poor condition.
The top lot of the sale was the important and rare but not particularly exciting direct positive of a chateau by Hippolyte Bayard from 1839 (Lot 157), which sold for 146,750 pounds sterling, or about $230,000 against an estimate of 20,000-30,000 pounds. It was a rather steep price and sold to a woman bidding in the room for a client. I believe Hans Kraus was the underbidder.
Dealer Lee Marks took the next lot in price, the Imperial Asylum at Vincennes group by Charles Negre, for 47,000 pounds, well within the estimate of 40,000-60,000 pounds. I only felt a handful of the images was of top quality in this lot, but those images were very good indeed.
Eadweard Muybridge's Cloud's Rest, Valley of Yosemite, 1872, made 44,650 pounds (against a too-low estimate of 6,000-8,000 pounds) and sold to a bidder on the phone. The other Muybridges also did very well. These were generally superior prints on original mounts, although a few of the single and all of the multiple lots were not of the finest print quality. Great variability here.
The next lot was the top Joseph-Philbert Girault De Prangey daguerreotype (very rare) of "The Haram al-Sharif, Jerusalem," early 1840s bought by Michael Wilson with Badr el Hadj, a noted collector of Middle Eastern material, underbidding him. It made 29,375 pounds versus an estimate of only 5,000-7,000 pounds.
Irish collector Sean Sexton bought an album of Henry Arthur Herbert's portraits and views for 29,275 pounds versus an estimate of only 2,000-2,500 pounds.
Another daguerreotype took the next spot in the hierarchy of bids. An anonymous view of a tree-lined view of Nantes with Prefecture building, 1841, brought in 25,850 pounds for the house against an estimate of 5,000-7,000 pounds. The phone nailed this one down against dealer Robert Hershkowitz in the room. Hershkowitz and his sometimes partner dealer Charles Isaacs were, however, successful on a number of daguerreotypes from this sale. The images the pair bid on were particularly artistic and moving.
An early Felice Beato album of Korean and Japanese views sold for 17,625 pounds versus an estimate of 5,000-7,000 pounds.
Another Joseph-Philbert Girault De Prangey daguerreotype of the "Abdullah [Ibn el Kherife] Mecka," early 1840s, sold to el Hadj for 16,450 pounds.
Another Felice Beato album of the Second Opium War China, 1860 brought 16,450 pounds from a private collector.
And finally a U.S. dealer bought the Edward Weston of the Armco Steel Works, 1922 (printed later, but still early) for 15,275 pounds versus an estimate of 8,000-12,000 pounds.
All in all, Christie's sold 1,198,246 pounds worth of photos with a sell-through of 66%. While the buy-in rate was better than at Sotheby's, the all-important pounds-sold total fell far short of Sotheby's. And there was controversy with the auctioneering as well.
After an incredibly slow morning and obviously frustrated by the pace and the ability to see in the very lengthy room (often interrupted by workers carrying the likes of huge ship models right through the middle of the auction), Michael Pritchard, the first auctioneer of the day, made several mistakes. Robert Koch was beside himself when the auctioneer just didn't seem to see him, despite Koch waving wildly on one of the Muybridge lots.
I also had trouble with bad auctioneering twice during this sale. At one point I thought I had won a Frith Egyptian book, but Pritchard apparently didn't even see me, even though he appeared to be pointing directly at me. In both that instance and the Koch affair, Pritchard refused to reopen the bidding. But at another point the auctioneer (a different one from Pritchard) actually reopened the bid on a lot I had won a full three seconds after the hammer had already been banged, after a Christie's staff member raised her hand well after the lot had been hammered down realizing she had missed a commission bid. This kind of auctioneering is frankly disgraceful anywhere.
Rick Wester tried to explain to the pair of us (me and Koch) the difference in education and style in English versus American auctioneers. While he was being very diplomatic, the explanation was full of holes.
If Wester was right, English auctioneers would then always sell at a rate of about 50 lots an hour (versus everyone else's 100+), disregard bidders at will and reopen hammered down bids to their own personnel, while closing off legitimate bids from others. Somehow that has not been my experience or Koch's (we've both been doing this for about 25 years), so I doubt this is a requirement for all London auctioneers. Admittedly, there have been problems at both houses with auctioneering on occasion, but this was one of the worst displays I can recall and marred an otherwise decent sales effort.
MOVING ON TO THE COUNTRY: THE BEARNE'S SALE OF THE CRAVEN ESTATE HITS SOME WORLD RECORD'S
What would draw about a 100 of the world's top photography collectors and dealers to take what was supposed to be a five-hour roundtrip train ride to a "little" country auction house outside of London?
I guess it was what Bearne's chairman Robin Barlow termed, "arguably one of the finest collections of early photographs in the U.K."
The key word here is "arguably." The collection had major condition problems for much of it, but there were phenomenal gems peppered throughout the material. It was definitely an auction that had to be previewed.
Barlow told me that the group came from an old customer, who had called up about a group of decorative prints. When he mentioned that there were some photographs and began to name some of the photographers, Barlow sensed this was something special. He went out to find the group "jumbled in six portfolios" and brought them back to the Bearne's offices.
You may fault the reproduction values in the catalogue but the research on the collection is first rate and Bearne's deserves credit due for this. As Barlow said to me, "It's terribly important to put these people into context historically vis-à-vis their peers."
Barlow hopes to get another such sale, although--contrary to London rumor--there are only a few poorer duplicates of some of the images in the sale. There will not be another Craven sale, of this scale at least.
Gremlins caught those that came by early train to preview or even re-preview. On one train, dead cows on the tracks slowed the train so much that its engineer apparently went over his mandated time allotment. Our intrepid travelers had to wait for a replacement train and engineer.
On another train there were break problems in the rear car. It stopped for 40 minutes. Then later in Bristol a similar problem led the engineers to conclude that someone had tampered with the emergency breaks. At this point, Hans Kraus told me tongue-in-cheek, he started to think that maybe competitors were trying to make sure they didn't get to the auction. Finally, the train was fixed, only to climb behind a slow-moving milk train. They arrived over two hours late, but still before the auction. The room was already jammed with relatives and well-wishers of the consignors.
William, the second Earl of Craven (1809-1866) had put the collection together primarily in the 1850s. Major name photographers, such as Fenton, Aguado, Marville and Le Gray, along with important but more unknown names, such as Craven himself, George Barker, Lord Ortho Fitzgerald and H.P. Leverett, made up the 91 lots offered.
But it came down to Craven and Le Gray for the real fireworks (although an album by Irish aristocrat Fitzgerald brought a hammer price of 35,000 pounds sterling).
The sale started slowly enough with a photograph of Lady Sarah Spencer, an ancestor of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, by George Barker. While it hit only 1,645 pounds, that was still well beyond the estimate of 300-500 pounds.
After two important Fentons in rather poor condition (but good tones on the first) sold for 12,925 and 11,750 pounds respectively and the Fitzgerald album went on the phone (possibly to Michael Wilson), we came to the Craven photographs. These were a mixed lot. As dealer Janet Lehr said to me: "I felt the Craven material, apart from the beautiful garden views, was pretty foxed and there was nothing I was really interested in."
Well, not exactly. Yes, much of the material did have problems. But no one could really ignore the horse-drawn photographic van (sold for 47,000 pounds, against an estimate of 8,000-12,000 pounds) or the magnificent tree in lot 54, Tree Study in the Park (64,625 pounds). The latter was, for me, one of the most beautiful tree photographs of the 19th century--a mesmerizing print. Hans Kraus apparently agree and underbid. I had left a commission bid at ten times the high estimate and that got me only a bit over a quarter of the way home. That might tell you how silly some of the estimates felt afterwards.
Another study of a tree--Gnarled Tree Trunk--was also powerful and also sold for 64,625 pounds. The only real problem was the price on all of these images. These all sold on the phone, perhaps to Sheik Saoud Al Thani.
The phone also took those "beautiful garden views" that Janet Lehr mentioned, and at record-level prices.
The first study of a Parterre ornamental garden at Ashdown Park in Berkshire sold for a stunning 88,125 pounds; the second one went for 70,500; and the third for a record-breaking (for a photographic landscape auctioned in the U.K.) 99,875 pounds! The last was a two-panel image, which was matched with technical virtuosity. There was no distortion to be seen between the panels. The same phone bidder took all three again.
Three still lifes of a brace of partridges sold to Hans Kraus for 25,850 pounds (Lot 71). Sean Sexton took another lesser one for just over 7,000 pounds (Lot 72). These certainly weren't on a blue-light special.
Then the auction finished in high style with Le Gray.
The prints when I saw them across the viewing room made my heart skip. The tones were, for the most part, that nice purple tone that everyone looks for. But up close and personal they were a disappointment for me. Their home, shoved in portfolio against each other, and maybe just normal wear and tear had scuffed up their surfaces badly. A few suffered less than others, but they all showed the effects.
That didn't deter the bidders. The first four featured the French navy, including Napoleon III's fleet leaving the harbor. The first two went to the same phone bidder again. The first (Lot 83) sold for 123,375 pounds and the second (Lot 84), after a pitched battle with dealer Robert Koch, who was probably bidding for a client, sold for a numbing 293,750 pounds.
Michael Sachs bought Lot 85 for 88,125 pounds. Hans Kraus took Lot 86 for 72,850 pounds.
The Brig on the Water (Lot 87) sold to the phone for 29,375 pounds. Mediterranean at Sete (Lot 88) sold to the phone for 99,875 pounds. Another seascape in poorer condition sold for 19,975 pounds. Lot 90 was bought in. It was so bad that even Le Gray has smudged out his signature. And finally, like those last efforts at a fireworks display, Lot 91 (Breaking Wave at Sete) was hotly contended, first by Koch, then by French dealer Camelo Carra for a collector, but finally the phone and probably the Sheik won out at the end with a final tally of 188,000 pounds.
As the smoke cleared, the Le Grays in this sale took the third to the fifth highest Le Gray prices at worldwide auction.
So again we have a sale that blows out the estimates, sets records and befuddles the marketplace--largely the results of one determined bidder. What's it all mean?
Hans Kraus said, that it "was an unusual sale that doesn't really relate to the marketplace as a whole."
Janet Lehr was a little more blunt with her evaluation: "That's the great success of an auction. It drags you into things that in the light of day you wouldn't be interested in at all."
Lehr feels that "auctions are for very savvy dealers or for collectors who are willing to make big mistakes."
On the Le Grays, she said, " I don't think it's an aberration." But she felt that prices for Le Grays would be quite erratic, but that very good ones will bring very good prices.
BOKELBERG COLLECTION SOLD--TO SHEIK?
The famed Bokelberg photography collection sold reportedly for what could be the highest price ever made for a private collection in a private sale. New York dealer Han Kraus, Jr. handled the sale.
The asking price for the collection had been upped from $10-1/2 million to $12-1/2 million just before the Jammes sale, although Kraus wouldn't provide any financial details of the actual sale.
Saoud Al Thani, the sheik from Qatar, who has dominated some of the past London auctions, was apparently the buyer, although Kraus now indicates that the group was bought for a collection in England. Interestingly enough, Al Thani has an estate near London.
Kraus also confirmed that the entire collection of 136 pieces had been sold to a single buyer.
Negotiations had been going on for some time, according to Kraus, and finalized "very recently."
There were two changes from the "Happy Birthday Photography" book, which was a record of the collection. The Man Ray La Priere print had been removed from the collection (for obvious reasons) and a matching negative by Paul Jeuffrain of his church (pl.59 in the book) had been added to keep the total at 136 images.
The collection was generally acknowledged as one of the great collections still in private hands. The condition of the prints is considered excellent by anyone's standards. There were only two downsides. One was that most curators wanted to build their own collections in their own image, and this was a collection that would make its own mark. And the other was simply the steep, but relatively fair (in this environment, at least) price.
Kraus characterized Bokelberg's reaction to the sale as very pleased with the results and that the collection will be staying together.
Kraus noted that keeping the collection together was something that both he and Bokelberg felt was the "crucial" goal.
FAMED COLLECTOR FACES LOS ALAMOS FIRES
While the Los Alamos fires are fortunately just news stories to most of us, noted photography collector Michael Mattis found himself, his daughter and his collection all in the path of the rampaging firestorm. Despite the seriousness of the situation, he managed to keep his cool and his notorious sense of humor.
As he told me by phone and email, "It's been quite the surreal week. Joanna [Ed. Note: his 15-year old daughter] and I were practically the last vehicle out of town on Wednesday (the day after my 40th b'day!) after the town-wide evacuation was ordered."
They had loaded up a neighbor's covered pick-up truck with 101 portfolio boxes worth of art. By that time the paved road access to town had been sealed off and they were forced to use a dirt road down the cliff side of the Barranca Mesa, then through 15 miles of San Ildefonso Indian land before finally joining back up with the Los Alamos Highway.
"In the meantime," Mattis said, "what can only be described as a mushroom cloud with a bright orange stem loomed in our rearview mirror. Sort of like the last scene of a Bond movie, where Bond and the girl dive into the bushes as the munitions plant goes up in flames."
Fortunately good friend and photography dealer Andrew Smith was in nearby Santa Fe. Mattis drove to his gallery and unloaded the artwork there. He and his daughter then stayed at the new Smith residence for what Mattis terms the "exodus."
Actually Mattis put his daughter on a plane to New York on the following Saturday so she could visit with her Mom and brothers, who were in Scarsdale, but she returned to Los Alamos for her school's reopening.
Ironically the Mattis' are in the process of moving out of the Los Alamos area.
The ever-puckish Michael told me "as an offering to the fire gods, we left a box of fake Lewis Hine photographs behind, but our offering was rejected as unworthy." His house was one of the fortunate ones that were spared.
Mattis reported, "Another irony is that we just listed our home for sale 90 minutes prior to the evacuation."
In an email to me he described his return on Monday night: "Just got back home yesterday eve as they called off the evacuation, except for the burned out neighborhoods. (Gas isn't back on though, so showering is out of the question.) The creepy thing about driving into town on Trinity, heading North on Diamond Dr. at the hospital, and heading East onto the North Mesa towards Big Rock Loop, is that unless you're looking carefully NOTHING LOOKS DIFFERENT!! True, the mountains to the West are black not green, but I drove home at dusk and it was hard to tell. And the National Guard humvees stationed at all the Westbound cross streets off Diamond with patrolling Guardsmen brandishing rifles is another telltale sign that something is in fact different. But the fire really only hit the houses close to the SF National Forest (now the "Santa Fe National Fire Break") to the West. We're talking 400 homeless families, and we're taking in a couple of them."
Despite the tragedy, Michael still managed to maintain his reputation for the quick quip by ending his email: "Did you ever think you'd see the day that the National Park Service was more lethal than the Postal Service?"
On a more somber note, our good wishes for all the families affected in the blaze and for the brave firefighters fighting it.
One postscript to this story: Mattis sold his house privately almost upon returning to his house.
Now he has to get rid of his ancient Toyota Tercel. Any takers?
MARRIAGE, PHOTOGRAPHY NY STYLE
It was bound to happen. In a Life meets Art (as the promotional card even reads) scenario, two New York photography gallery partners have decided to tie the knot romantically and celebrate their marriage and passion with a photography show entitled--what else--"I Do."
Janet Sirmon and Alan Klotz will be getting married themselves on June 10. Not in the gallery though, but in a special place in the Catskills.
But at the suggestion (some would say instigation) of fellow dealer Keith DeLellis, they will have a show of wedding photography at the gallery, and not just any wedding photography, but photography by the likes of Steichen, etc.
They have even reserved a small section of the gallery's wall for a couple of contact prints of their own wedding. Think roses, lots of roses. But you'll have to wait until about June 13-14 for these special pictures.
You can see the rest of the exhibit beginning Thursday, June 1st between 6-8:30 pm right on through to June 24th. Yes, it's a June wedding and gallery show. Perfect, yes? We wish the couple all the very best.
Alan Klotz/Photocollect is on 22 E 72nd St. in New York City. The gallery's phone number is: 212-327-2211. Normal gallery hours are 11am-6pm, Wed.-Sat.