Issue #220  12/7/2015
Auctions A Plenty Surround Paris Photo Time Period

By Mary Pelletier
Photography Historian and Writer

Each November, when the photography crowds descend on Paris for the Paris Photo fair at the Grand Palais, the auction houses large and small schedule their sales to capitalise on the dealers and buyers descending on the city. This year was no different. There was an incredibly large selection of vintage and contemporary material to wade through at Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Yann le Mouel, Artcurial and other Paris auction houses. Most sales were scheduled before the tragic attacks of Friday, November 13th, with the second half of Christie’s Shalom Shpilman sale moved from Saturday the 14th to Friday, November 20th.

Bernd and Hilla Becher's work Wassertume (Trichter) brought in 411,000 euros at the Sotheby's Paris sale.
Bernd and Hilla Becher's work Wassertume (Trichter) brought in 411,000 euros at the Sotheby's Paris sale.

Sotheby’s held one sale this autumn, the last for European Head of Photographs Simone Klein before she moves to a new position at Magnum. The sale, titled ‘Back to Black’ brought in a total of 1,595,163 euro (including buyer’s premium, as do all these sales totals), and was a chance for Sotheby’s to showcase some quality, black and white vintage material, which outweighed the amount of contemporary work on offer.

Sale highlights from ‘Back to Black’ included a massive price for the Bernd and Hilla Becher work Wassertume (Trichter), which blew past its estimate of 60,000-80,000 EUR to achieve the sale’s highest price at 411,000 euros. The sale, which had a buy-in rate of just under 50%, was salvaged by some high prices achieved for Irving Penn (Mouth For L’Oreal making its high estimate at 50,000 euros), Bruce Weber (with Tom, Bear Pond, Adironack Park making three times its high estimate at 17,500 euros), and Constantin Brancusi (bringing in 50,000 euros for Mademoiselle Pogany II). A large selection of 23 Jose Maria Sert photographs saw only six sold, and there was a notable pass on the top lot of Diane Arbus’ Identical Twins, which went unsold with an estimate of 200,000-300,000 euros.

Over at Christie’s, there was so much to view that collectors and dealers could be seen going back for second looks in between the setting up and opening day of the fair. The department went all out this autumn with their general sale, as well as the vast, two-part Shalom Shpilman sale, which was held to benefit the Shpilman Institute for Photography in Tel Aviv.

The general sale, held on 12 November, brought in a total of 3,086,825 euros (including buyer’s premium) due in large part to the fantastic selection of 42 De Prangey daguerreotypes up for grabs. The daguerreotypes, from the 1840s, originated from a different source than the De Prangeys that have come up in years past, and 41 of the 42 were sold. Prices ranged from 5,000 to 175,500 euros, which was brought in by Lot 19, Rome Jupiter Tonnant, but most prices hovered between 15,000 and 30,000 euros per daguerreotype.

Other highlights of the general sale included groups of vintage Andre Kertesz and Martin Munkacsi material from the 1920s and 1930s. The Kertesz view of the Eiffel Tower from 1925 made 103,500 euros. Other top lots included the Robert Mapplethorpe of Man in Polyester Suit, 1980, which was sold for 361,500 euros, and a Eugene Atget from 1898 of Marchand D’Abat-Jour Ru Lepic bringing in 85,500 euros.

Both parts of the Shpilman sale resulted in a total of 2,695,600 euros (including buyer’s premium), after part II was rescheduled for Friday, November 20th. The 201-lot sale had a high estimate of 4,486,000 euros, with 132 lots selling for a buy-in rate of 37%. A wide-ranging collection full of diverse offerings, both contemporary works and quirky and traditional vintage pieces saw an equally wide range of price points. High prices were achieved by the cover lot, Dora Maar’s Les Annees Vous Guettent, 1936 at 325,500 euros, a Lazslo Moholy-Nagy Fotogramm from 1922 bringing in 103,500 euros, and a Man Ray of his famous Nature Morte collage from 1935-6 at 169,500 euros. The top lot of the sale, a Thomas Struth of The Rothko Chapel, Houston, 2007 went unsold with an estimate of 300,000 to 400,000 euros.

Dora Maar’s Les Annees Vous Guettent, 1936, sold at Christie's for 325,500 euros.
Dora Maar’s Les Annees Vous Guettent, 1936, sold at Christie's for 325,500 euros.

Along with the big houses, expert Viviane Esders and Yann Le Mouel held a general sale on November 10th, along with a special ‘Le Paris d’Atget’ selection from the collection of critic and art historian Yvan Christ.

“This exceptional and coherent collection of 132 prints have always been kept in (Christ’s) private collection and his family by decent,” Esders said of the large collection of Eugene Atget works. “A great number of prints were showing Parisian mobs, 14th of July festivities, children in the outdoor Theater of Luxembourg Gardens, Children Carousel, street clowns show, ice cream seller, and unusual street jobs, "tondeurs de chiens", "Paveurs" and "Goudronneurs" working in Paris' Street. A very large group of street scenes, store fronts and Parisian courtyards were the core of the Atget typical images.”

The highest price was garnered by Lot 67 “Rue de la Montagne Saine-Genevieve” for 4,500 euros, followed by lot 119 “Bitumiers” at 3,125 euros.

“We had a lot of interest from foreign collectors, mostly American, Italian and French,” Esders said. “It was a real opportunity for Atget's admirers to acquire unusual scenes at reasonable prices.”

Perhaps the most erotic photographs on offer during Paris Photo week could be found at Artcurial, who held a sale of nearly 200 works by Pierre Molinier, which brought in a total of 275,210 euros. The photographs (and a number of drawings and paintings) were part of the collection of Emmanuelle Arsan, a writer who maintained a correspondence with Molinier and also sat for him.

Specialist Christophe Lunn noted that photography provided “the perfect medium for performing his transformation into the ideal being: the androgyne, half man, half woman: the shaman.” The sexually charged images hovered around a 1,000-euro price point, and 101 lots went unsold.

Despite not having a Paris saleroom, Phillips’ European photographs department, based in London, scheduled their autumn sale for the week before Paris Photo, hoping to get in on the pre-fair action. The 119-lot sale, held on November 6, fared well, resulting in a sale total of 1,257,150 GBP, with a buy-in rate of just 26%. Top sold lot honors went to Ed Ruscha’s Gasoline Stations 1962/1969, which sold for 106,900 GBP, well above its estimate of 40,000-60,000 GBP. The top lot by high estimate, Alexander Rodchencko’s Steps, 1929, failed to sell at 140,000-180,000 GBP, but the sale was bolstered by firm prices in the mid-level lots.

Robert Mapplethorpe’s Self-Portrait, 1980, Phillip’s cover lot, garnered 98,500 GBP.
Robert Mapplethorpe’s Self-Portrait, 1980, Phillip’s cover lot, garnered 98,500 GBP.

Robert Mapplethorpe’s Self-Portrait, 1980, the sale’s cover lot, garnered 98,500 GBP, on the high end, along with Candida Hofer’s Teatro Comunale di Bologna I, 2006 making 47,500 GBP. But there were a few surprises in the mix: Michael Dweck’s The Duke’s Mermaid, 2015 made well above its 12,000-18,000 GBP estimate, pulling in 37,500 GBP, and Abelardo Morell’s $7 Million, 2006 made 17,500 GBP over its estimate of 6,000-8,000 GBP.

According to Phillips expert Lou Proud, "The room was full and there was lots of competitive bidding in the room, which made it more exciting, and there was a great atmosphere. We sold 74% of the sale which was a decent amount, totaling 1,255,000 pounds sterling roughly which is just under $2 million, and putting us ahead of Sotheby's Paris."

"As classic to Phillips, there were many contemporary artists included in the top results. Also the contemporary take on the portrait genre seemed to attract attention with both Nick Knight's Kate Moss and Richard Learoyd's Agnes A selling well."

"I think that it definitely works well to have the sale positioned before Paris Photo. People have eyes wide open and are on the look out, plus we usually have more contemporary and more color to excite them and get them in the mood before they board the Eurostar."