Issue #210  12/21/2014
Sotheby's Multi-Owner Sale Totals $5,547,188 with 30.6% Buy-In Rate

By Stephen Perloff
Editor of The Photograph Collector and Photo Review

At Sotheby's sale on September 30, the room was also a bit fuller than in recent times and again, more dealers than usual were in attendance. The morning session was taken for the first time by Chris Mahoney, as Denise Bethel was resting a sore throat.

The sale got off to a pretty good start with mostly Ansel Adams images. Maroon Bells, Near Aspen, Colorado, 1951/1974 ($50,000-$70,000) was rung up by a phone bidder at $62,500; the portfolio Taos Pueblo, 1933 ($20,000–$30,000) more than doubled its high estimate at $81,250; and Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg scaled Adams's Mt. Robson, 1928 ($30,000–$50,000) with a nice inscription to W. E. Dassonville, for $68,750.

Edward Weston also had his day as Dunes, Oceano, 1936 ($70,000–$100,000) drifted to $75,000; Artichoke—Halved, 1930 ($30,000–$50,000) was marinated by Mattis and Hochberg at $173,000, fifth place in the sale, over the bid of Paul Hertzmann; but Hertzmann outlasted Mattis and Hochberg and then Bruce Silverstein for Weston's Kale Halved, 1930 ($50,000–$70,000), at $112,500. The artichoke had a dash in the title, thus the premium—I think.

Imogen Cunningham's strikingly modernist Amphitheatre (Mills College), 1928 ($120,000–$180,000) sold out at $185,000, fourth place. Edward S. Curtis's unique photogravure plate Bear's Belly—Arikara, 1909 ($40,000–$60,000) reached $81,250.

John Dillwyn Llewelyn's An Album, 'Photographs by J.D.L.', 1850s ($20,000–$30,000) sold to a woman in the room for $53,125. She left immediately after this lot.

Lewis Hine's Mechanic at Steam Pump in Electric Power House, 1921 ($70,000–$100,000) was fought over by Mattis and Hochberg, Gabriel Catone and another phone bidder, before going to phone L0080 for $269,000, a record for the artist at auction and third place in the sale. Jeffrey Fraenkel closed the sale for Walker Evans's Gothic Gate Cottage Near Poughkeepsie, New York, 1931 ($20,000–$30,000) at $56,250, over the bid of Gabriel Catone consulting on his cell phone.

Alfred Stieglitz has his moment as Dorothy True, 1919/1946 ($15,000–$25,000) soared to almost five times its high estimate at $149,000, tied for seventh place, as Paul Hertzmann lost out to a phone bidder; then Stieglitz's Hand and Ford Car, 1933/1946 ($20,000–$30,000) quadrupled its high estimate at $125,000, tied for ninth place, with Hertzmann yielding to Bruce Silverstein on this lot.

The Cole-printed Edward Weston Portfolio failed to sell at Sotheby's, making it the biggest disappointment of the Fall auctions, although it was terribly overestimated.
The Cole-printed Edward Weston Portfolio failed to sell at Sotheby's, making it the biggest disappointment of the Fall auctions, although it was terribly overestimated.

Edward Steichen's Greta Garbo, 1928 ($100,000–$150,000) passed. But Harry Callahan's Eleanor (Double Exposure), 1948 ($30,000–$50,000) reached $100,000, with L0080 fending off Jeffrey Fraenkel. Then Peter MacGill, bidding against his friend and sometime partner Jeffrey Fraenkel, won Robert Adams's Longmont, CO, 1979-82/1992 ($15,000–$25,000) more than doubling the high estimate at $68,750.

The last lot of the morning session, which ended thankfully close to noon, was the Edward Weston/Cole Weston Master Set with 548 prints estimated at $2 million–$3 million and with its own separate catalogue containing some nice remembrances by members of the Weston family as well as small reproductions of every image. Earlier in the morning session an Edward/Cole lot consisting of Oceano and Church Door Hornitos, passed at $4,250; and Pepper (No. 30), certainly one of the top five Weston images, was hammered down for $4,000. No doubt in a retail setting, these images bring more. So it seemed like a fool's errand to try to get $3,000 per print when half the images were not well known and a good number were variants not nearly as good as the better known images from a series. Needless to say, the lot passed at $1.5 million, with not a raised hand, or any activity whatsoever from the phones or internet.

Nonetheless, the remaining audience gave Mahoney a nice round of applause as the session came to a close—a true reflection of the appreciation people feel for him.

The afternoon session started out strongly. Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg got a bargain for the Robert Doisneau portfolio of 50 prints, Robert Doisneau, 1932–68/1987 ($60,000-$80,000) at $56,250, but bargains at the upper end of the sale were rare for most of the afternoon. German dealer Hendrik Berinson went well over high estimate for Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's Stockholm, 1930 ($30,000–$50,000) at $112,500, fending off bids by Howard Greenberg, Bruce Silverstein, and Edwynn Houk.

Alexander Rodchenko"s large format version of his famous image, "Steps" went to an Internet bidder for $275,000
Alexander Rodchenko"s large format version of his famous image, "Steps" went to an Internet bidder for $275,000

Michael Shapiro captured the top lot of the sale, Man Ray's Lee Miller, 1930 ($100,000–$150,000), more than doubling the high estimate at $455,000. The next lot took second place as a collector bidding online (number 3083) climbed Alexander Rodchenko's Steps, 1929 ($150,000–$250,000), at $275,000. Next, Rodchenko's Catching Worms for Bait, 1933 ($40,000–60,000) was reeled in by Mattis and Hochberg for $81,250, over the bid of Bruce Silverstein. Mattis and Hochberg also built up their collection with El Lissitzky's Self Portrait (The Constructor), 1924 ($70,000–$100,000) at $87,500.

Robert Frank's Hoboken, 1955/1970s ($100,000–$150,000), the same image that passed at Christie's, went to 3083 online for $125,000, tied for ninth place. Jeffrey Fraenkel undressed Diane Arbus's A Family One Evening in a Nudist Camp, 1965 ($60,000–$80,000) at $87,500.

Next came a run of seven prints by Francesca Woodman, of which six sold over estimate. Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island (Self-Portrait, Kneeling), 1975–76 ($20,000-$30,000) went to a phone at $68,750. Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island (Self-Portrait with Glass), 1976 ($40,000–$60,000) went to a different phone and more than doubled its high estimate at $149,000, tying for seventh place. And Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, Relating to Portrait of a Reputation, 1975–76 ($30,000–$50,000) was bought by the same phone bidder for $56,250.

Peter Beard's Ode to Radclyffe Dugmore, NR, The Olgerai River, Kenya, 1994 ($40,000-$60,000) charged to $62,500. Robert Mapplethorpe's Irises, 1988 ($12,000-$18,000) were plucked for $50,000, but his Calla Lily, 1988 ($100,000–$150,000) passed, with the reserve seeming to be at the low estimate.

Richard Avedon's Dovima with Elephants ($40,000–$60,000) also passed. Irving Penn's Woman with Roses, 1950/1977 ($150,000–$250,000) went to an online bidder under estimate at $161,000, a bit less for a print from the same edition at Christie's. And lastly, David Hockney's The Desk, 1984 ($40,000–$60,000) was straightened up by a phone bidder for $81,250.

Sotheby's sale totaled $5,547,188 with a 30.6% buy-in rate. Thirty-nine lots sold over estimate, 55 under, and 69 within the estimates; 60 to the phones, 50 in the room, 33 to order, and 18 online. But also interesting is the concentration of the works offered although the top ten was more diverse than at Christie's. Almost 37% of the lots were by a dozen photographers who were represented by five lots or more: Adams (Ansel 18, Robert 12), Abbott 10, Beard 10, Callahan 5, Cartier-Bresson 9, Eisenstaedt 6, Friedlander 5, Kertész 5, Sally Mann 5, Edward Weston 6 and Woodman 6.

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.