Issue #140  2/20/2008
Daytime Portion of Sotheby's Multi-Owner Sale Spotlights Watkins and Weston Images

By Alex Novak

I am still digging out on the Fall auctions. Sorry for the delay. The daytime portion of the multi-owner sale at Sotheby's this past October never broke into the top ten of this auction, but there were still some good pieces in this part of the sale that certainly would have been in a top ten at many, if not most, auctions. The audience did dwindle down a lot in the afternoon to only about forty people. For the other parts of Sotheby's sales, see our last two newsletters archived here: http://www.iphotocentral.com/news/article_arch.php . The prices here include Sotheby's new outrageously high buyer's premium. Christie's has instituted an equally high buyer's premium, but, of course, the two dominant auction companies' virtually simultaneous price hikes were not an example of a continuing pattern of market price fixing--just two megaliths following each other's lead. What is really sad is that I feel that this has really had a negative financial effect on both houses, as they feel freer to give guarantees to the big art consignors with the thought that buyers will foot their bills, which certainly hasn't worked out for Sotheby's, according to the New York Times and other sources. I suspect that Christie's has suffered the same, albeit less public, fate. Buyers are simply going to be more reluctant to bid as much with such fees and sellers will get less because of it, no matter what these auction house offer as inducements to those sellers. But they have gotten away with it in the past and their managements seem to assume that the sky is the limit. We will see. Thank goodness these particular auction houses are only one part of this market.

The Carleton E. Watkins' lots were strong and the bidding supported this quality. They were also early prints, unlike the previous major Watkins sale here, which brought way too high prices for that later material in my opinion. Lot 116, Watkins' Hutchings Hotel, Yosemite sold to a collector for $97,000. The same collector bought the next lot (Watkins' Yosemite Valley, No.4) for $109,000, underbid by dealer Deborah Bell. And then this collector bought lot 120 (Watkins' Yosemite Falls from Glacier Point) for $58,600. His string of Watkins was only broken by commission bids on lots 118 (Watkins' View in Webber (sic) Canon, UT) for $67,000 and 119 (The Devil's Slide, Webber (sic) Canyon, UT) for $39,400. The same commission bidder on lot 118 also picked up lot 121 (Watkins' Yosemite Falls, Front View) for $79,000.

On lot 127, Watkins' album, "Photographic Views of Kern County (misspelled by Sotheby's as Country), California", San Francisco dealer Paul Hertzmann was totally stunned to realize that he had stolen the lot for a mere $41,800, nearly a third below the low estimate. The album was a fascinating mixture of images and the photographs of close ups of fruit trees was reminiscent of similar images in the Charles Simart-attributed album that came from the Andre Jammes sale (and will soon be offered by Hans Kraus, Jr.). As Paul told me later, he never expected to get this gem for that low a bid.

One lot that should have made it into the top ten of this sale, but didn't, was lot 132, a complete set of Camera Work. Estimated at $100,000-150,000, the lot soared upward to $229,000 and was snagged by a man in the room.

An exceptional print of Gertrude Kasebier's "The Manger" (lot 133) sold to New York dealer Peter MacGill for just below the low estimate at $39,400.

One of my favorite lots was number 134, a waxed platinum print of Alfred Stieglitz's Marie Rapp in fur coat. Estimated at a very reasonable $20,000-30,000, the lot quickly doubled its low estimate and wound up--with buyers' fee--at $49,000. The phone bidder did very well indeed on this one. Another platinum print of Rapp (lot 137) was also nice, but not quite as enthralling, and it sold at low estimate to another phone for only $12,500, still a very good deal.

New York dealer Howard Greenberg fended off fellow dealer Bruce Silverstein and several others to come away with Walker Evan's Brooklyn, NY (Clotheslines and Smokestacks), lot 141, for double the low estimate at $49,000. But he couldn't prevail on the next lot (a large format, posthumous print of Evan's iconic "Main Street, Saratoga Springs), which a phone bidder snagged for $32,200. It seemed very high for a print made in an edition of 75 and printed five years after Evans died. A commission bidder then picked up Evans' portfolio (lot 144) for $56,200.

Lot 145, a variant of Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother in a Resettlement Administration print, flew over its estimate range of $20,000-30,000 to land in the hands of dealer Howard Greenberg for $56,200. Greenberg had to outlast lots of phones and commission bids on this one.

After a quick break for lunch, we came back to a nearly empty room of about 30 people, but with the phones and commission bids, Sotheby's still got the job done.

A phone picked up Ansel Adams' Oak Tree, Sunset (lot 149) for more than double the low estimate at $44,200. Another phone picked off Adams' Aspens, Northern New Mexico for just above the high estimate at $41,800. Still another phone went just over the high estimate on lot 162, Adams' The Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, WY, at $73,000. Finally, on lot 163, the room picked up one, Adams' Rose and Driftwood, San Francisco. A woman at the front of the room got it for $73,000. But then it was back to the phones on the next lot, another Aspens, New Mexico, but in a larger 16 x 20 inch print, which this time sold for the high estimate at $85,000.

Collector Gary Davis (with Howard Greenberg's assistance) had to fight off a flock of dealers for Adams' Political Signs and Circus Poster, San Francisco, including Lee Marks, Paul Hertzmann and others. Estimated at a too-tempting $8,000-12,000, lot 168 soared to $44,200 before Davis could claim it as his own. The next lot, Adams' Oak Tree, Snowstorm, Yosemite National Park sold to a phone bidder for $53,800.

Edward Weston's Shell and Rock--Arrangement (lot 179) sold to a phone bidder for just over the high estimate at $44,200. Likewise, Weston's Dunes, Oceano (lot 181) sold to another phone for midrange at $46,600.

The second highest lot of this daytime session was Edward Weston's Nude on Sand, Oceano, which could have been printed just prior to a show in Paris in January 1950 at which it was exhibited. While New York dealer Edwynn Houk and the phones did give him a tussle, dealer Howard Greenberg still walked away with the prize at just over the high estimate at $193,000 with Sotheby's new high premium.

Two of the rare Miriam Lerner nudes by Edward Weston (lots 187 and 188) sold for well over their tempting estimates. The first lot sold to Weston collector Michael Mattis for $79,000 over the bidding of Parker Stephenson. Parker did pick up the next lot at $51,400.

A commission bidder outlasted Edwynn Houk on Edward Weston's Nude (Charis, Santa Monica) (lot 194) by bidding more than double the high estimate at $91,000.

The late John Cleary, Houston photo dealer who recently passed away (see related story), took lot 208, the André Kertész portfolio of 10 small prints at $46,600.

Alfred Eisenstaedt's Children at Puppet Theatre still packs them in, as a phone bid well over the high estimate at $44,200--still a little bit under some previous marks though.

Herbert Ritts' Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood (lot 241) sold to a phone, which overbid another phone for what felt like a ridiculous price of $109,000, over an already reaching estimate of $20,000-30,000. Why are all the silly prices made over the phone? Hmmm. This bidder also won an Irving Penn Cigarette #82 (lot 248) for $38,400.

Robert Mapplethorpe's Lisa Lyon with Snake sold just a bit (NOT!) over its estimate of $6,000-8,000 at $56,200! Two phones were also the bidders on this one.

Richard Misrach's color-shifted Diving Board, Salton Sea (lot 280) sold to the phone for $46,600. And Ed Ruscha's Five Views from the Panhandle sold well over its high estimate at $40,000 to a man in the room.