Issue #129  6/16/2007
Christie's Two April 23rd Evening Sales Net Over $3.79 Million

By Stephen Perloff
Editor of The Photograph Collector

The spring auction season was widely anticipated with several important single-owner sales and a large number of important pictures in the various-owner sales.

Christie's led off on April 23 with the first-ever auction devoted to Horst P. Horst. Many traditional dealers and collectors were wondering if the sale could meet the expectations of what seemed to be the over-reaching estimates. But bidding was lively and prices were high, suggesting that the marketing of a sale through a separate catalogue (or, should we say, a hagiography, with quotations of praise scattered throughout) produces results that are not always totally logical given past auction results, especially for later-printed material, despite the fact that fashion has been a very hot segment of the market. The prints all came from the collection of Gert Elfering, who had acquired Horst's archive and who had sold off part of his collection in a single-owner sale at Christie's in October 2005. Most of the prints offered here were platinum-palladium prints, a few on canvas, some in editions of 25, some in editions of five, some uneditioned.

Howard Greenberg, who took seven of the 54 lots, began with lot 2, "Bombay Bathing Fashion, Oyster Bay, N.Y.", 1950/c1990, silver print ($10,000–$15,000) stretching out to $57,600. An anonymous phone bidder, #1791, who also took seven lots, grabbed the next one, "Male Nude I, New York", 1952/1985–1995, platinum-palladium print on canvas ($60,000–$80,000) for $84,000, number ten on the top ten.

"Barefoot Beauty", 1941/1985–1995, #4/5, platinum-palladium print on canvas ($60,000–$80,000) brought $108,000 from a different phone bidder (fifth place). "Round the Clock II", 1987/1985–1995, #10/25, platinum-palladium print ($30,000–$40,000) got a timely bid of $90,000 from art consultant Turid Meeker (ninth place). And an internet bidder reached third place by spending $144,000 for "New York Still Life", 1946/1985–1995, #3/5, platinum-palladium print on canvas ($60,000–$80,000).

"Round the Clock I", 1987/1985–1995, AP 3/3, platinum-palladium print ($50,000–$70,000) timed out at $57,600, going to phone bidder 1791. An internet bidder claimed "Classical Still Life", 1937/1985–1995, platinum-palladium print on canvas ($60,000–$80,000) at $144,000, the third highest price of the sale.

The iconic "Mainbocher Corset, Paris" 1939/1985–1995, #2/5, platinum-palladium print on canvas ($100,000–$150,000) set a world auction record for Horst at $288,000, going to phone bidder 1791. A vintage silver print had sold at the Elfering sale in 2005 for $216,000 and a later platinum print for $170,577 at Christie's London last November.

Another "Male Nude", 1952/1985–1995, platinum-palladium print on canvas, actually sold at its low estimate, $60,000, to an order bidder. Another order bidder corralled "Persepolis Bull, Iran", 1949/1985–1995, platinum-palladium print, at the same price, but above the estimate of $30,000–$40,000.

"Lisa with Harp", 1940/1985–1995, platinum print on canvas ($80,000–$120,000) went to 1791 for $168,000 (second place). "Odalisque I", 1943/1985–1995, platinum print on canvas ($80,000–$120,000) seduced $102,000 from a European bidder on the phone (eighth place). "Calla Aethiopica", 1945/1985–1995, platinum-palladium print on canvas ($80,000–$120,000) was plucked by an order bidder for $114,000 (fourth place).

"Nude: Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn", 1940/1985–1995, platinum-palladium print, 12/15 ($50,000–$70,000) was the last of the lots taken by 1791, for $54,000. And an internet bidder won "Houdon Still Life", 1937/1985–1995, platinum-palladium print on canvas ($60,000–$80,000) for $108,000 (tied for fifth).

The sale totaled $2,519,400 with only four of the 54 lots (7.4%) bought in. As we were to see for the rest of the week, enough dollars (or euros or pounds) emerged to float all boats.

After a breath the evening continued with a sale of 30 lots of Modernist Photographs from a European Collection, that of the London art historian and gallerist James Hyman, who deaccessioned this work to concentrate on collecting prints from the earliest years of photography.

Consultant Kevin Moore started the festivities by besting Peter MacGill for Harry Callahan's "Camera Movement on Flashligh"t, 1946 ($30,000–$40,000) at $66,000 and then taking Aaron Siskind's "Chicago 8", 1948, just over high estimate at $38,400. New York gallerist Deborah Bell climbed one-third over the high estimate for André Kertész's "Rooftops, Paris", 1931, at $48,000.

The earliest large print of Lewis Hine's "Girl in a Carolina Cotton Mill" ($70,000–$90,000) passed at $48,000. Sometimes it seems the taint of the scandal is still depressing the value of Hine's work.

Peter MacGill walked off with Callahan's "Chicago", 1958, a view of a street with a group of pedestrians passing from a small spot of late afternoon sunlight into darkness, for $66,000, almost double the high estimate, over the underbid of Ute Hartjen of Germany's Camera Work Gallery.

Collector Steve Stein lost out on Kertész's "Carrefour, Blois", 1930, printed 1930s, as it went to another bidder in the room for $132,000, a bit over low estimate and the second highest price of the sale. The top lot was Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's "Rothenburg", 1926–28 ($80,000–$120,000), a vertiginous view of the street below. The hammer almost came down at $140,000, but started up again as a phone bidder left dealer Edwynn Houk looking up at $264,000.

After Edward Weston's "Chayotes Batea Pelale, Mexico", 1924 ($150,000–$250,000) passed at $110,000, collector Michael Mattis picked up the bargain of the day, Paul Strand's "Speckled Toadstool, Georgetown, Maine", 1927 ($200,000–$300,000) with an order bid of only $120,000.

Jeffrey Fraenkel went to $114,000, within estimate, for Weston's "Dunes, Oceano", 1936. And for the last lot, Peter MacGill, talking on a cell phone, engaged in a spirited bidding war with a phone bidder for Robert Frank's "Paris", 1950 ($25,000–$35,000), a man and his dog on a horse-drawn wagon on a cobblestone street in the fog, finally going almost three times over high estimate at $120,000.

This sale totaled $1,270,800, although 30% of the lots bought in.

(Copyright ©2007 by The Photograph Collector.)

My thanks to Steve Perloff and The Photograph Collector Newsletter for giving me permission to use this information. The Photograph Collector, which is a wonderful newsletter that I can heartily recommend, is published monthly and is available by subscription for $149.95. You can phone 1-215-891-0214 and charge your subscription or send a check or money order to: The Photograph Collector, 340 East Maple Ave., Suite 200, Langhorne, PA 19047. Or to order The Photograph Collector Newsletter online, go to: http://www.photoreview.org.