Issue #197  6/5/2013
Swann Galleries' April 18 Auction Of Photographs/Photobooks Brings In $1.2 Million+ With Nearly 33% Buy-Ins

Swann Galleries moved its photography and photo book auction away from the AIPAD show to April 18th, which gave both dealers and clients some breathing space that was well appreciated. But the auction house had some problems with its buy-in rate, which was a relatively high 32.9%. With only two-thirds of the lots selling and no real mega lot to help them, Swann could only manage a total of just over $1.2 million.

The sale's top lot was Edward Weston's modernist portrait of Charis (nude), which had been acquired from Cole Weston. It sold to Michael Mattis for $50,400. Also among those blue-chips were Imogen Cunningham's masterful Magnolia Blossom, Tower of Jewels, warm-toned silver print, 1925, and Ansel Adams's Moonrise, Hernandez, NM, silver print, 1941, printed 1978, with both selling to dealers for $26,400 each.

Also bringing $26,400--and setting an auction record--was a rare vintage print of W. Eugene Smith's Saipan, 1945, with a handwritten inscription explaining the story behind the war image of a soldier holding an ill infant, as well as hand stamps such as "Famous Picture, Do Not Circulate".

Another record-breaking item was Minor White's Jupiter Portfolio, with 12 lyrical silver print photographs from the 1940s through the early 1970s, which sold to a dealer for $33,600. Among other fine-art portfolios sold was Hiroshi Sugimoto's Time Exposed, with 50 plates, which brought $13,200 from a collector.

Establishing a new auction benchmark or $19,200 for the photographer's work was a binder containing 57 photographs of body-builders and nude musclemen from the late 1940s by Fred Kovert.

George Platt Lynes' suite of 100 photographs relating to the New York City Ballet, from its inception in 1938 to the early 1950s, including images of Balanchine productions, sold to a dealer for $36,000.

From the late 19th and early 20th century were albums full of images of fascinating Asian subjects, such as: a Felice Beato portfolio with seven photographs relating to the aftermath of the "Pekin War," 1860, which sold for $19,200; an 1870s travel album with more than 180 cartes-de-visite portraits and landscapes of the Philippines, Japan, China and other countries, which sold for $16,800; an 1881 album containing 39 albumen and cyanotype photographs of Hong Kong, which sold for $24,000; an 1880s accordion fold-out album with 44 photographs of China, which sold for $20,400; and H.V.K., Views of China--Japan, an 1890s portfolio with 50 photographs, which sold for $18,000. A related item was an 1860 four-part panorama of Odin Bay, China by Beato, which was printed in 1862 by Henry Hering and which sold for $18,000. All of this Asian material sold to dealers rather than collectors.

A collection of 179 American tintype photographs, 1860s-90s, which included studio and en plein air images of occupational tradesmen (including a salesman), outdoor scenes, humorous vacation pictures, military men, photographica, still lifes, commercial images, studies with curious props (including a crocodile and a bear), musicians and children with toys, which sold for a very reasonable $26,400 to a collector. Les Merveilles et les Originalités Architecturales à l'Exposition 1900 was a folio with 100 cyanotypes of the 1900 Paris expo, which sold for $13,200 to a collector.

A contemporary piece that echoes early photography was a 2002 unique, oversized daguerreotype of a human skull by Adam Fuss, which sold to a collector for $18,000.

Rounding out the auction were striking portraits by well-known artists, among them Walker Evans' circa 1930 image of Berenice Abbott, which sold to a dealer for $14,400; two uncut photo booth self-portraits of Andy Warhol in a tuxedo and bow tie from the early 1960s, which sold to a collector for $16,800; and Diane Arbus' Waitress, Nudist Camp, NJ, printed before 1967, with an inscription by the artist, which also sold to a collector for $16,800.

Daile Kaplan, Swann vice president and director of photographs & photo books, said, "Documentary photographs of 19th-century China are increasingly sought after by Asian, European and American collectors and continue to realize robust prices. Blue-chip works also sold well amid competitive bidding."

Swann also launched a new blog called Photophilia. The blog, swann-photophilia.tumblr.com, is a moderated page where anyone can submit their favorite photograph, along with a few lines of text explaining why they love it. A tumblr account is not required, just an email address and first name. Swann defines Photophilia as an obsession, a love, a desire for photographs.