Issue #233  6/20/2017
Sotheby's "The Discerning Eye: Property from the Collection of Eric Franck, Part 1" Totals £319,188

By Michael Diemar

Bill Brandt's "Nude with Elbow" sold for £15,000.
Bill Brandt's "Nude with Elbow" sold for £15,000.

Then came the next auction at Sotheby's, "The Discerning Eye: Property from the Collection of Eric Franck, Part 1". Eric Franck has been an important part of Paris Photo and AIPAD over the years, but has now handed over the commercial part of his activities to Augusta Edwards. He is also a collector and the brother of the late Martine Franck.

This auction was a welcome break from the increasingly predictable fare at the London auctions. There was plenty of material here rarely seen at auction on these shores, including images by Gérard Castello Lopes and Enzo Sellerio.
Lot 1, a 1979 print of Heinz Hajek-Halke's "Der Gassenhauer (The Popular Song" from 1923, a powerful composite of a young woman singing and hands playing a piano, sold for £11,250.

Lot 2, Martine Franck's "Gérard Hardy in Les Clowns Théatre du Soleil, Aubervilliers, Outskirts of Paris" went for £3,750.

Lot 3, the first Henri Cartier-Bresson in the auction, was a 1957 print of "Joinville-le-Point, Near Paris". It was estimated at £20,000-30,000, but despite the strong image and a very nice print, it failed to sell, as did the following two lots, "Nice Horse" by Jose Alemany and Mi Ujsag? (What's New?) by Jànos Szász. Then came Cartier-Bresson's "Ascot Racecourse, Berkshire", with an elderly man on a bench, with a newspaper on his head as protection against the rain. It was a 1980's print of the famous 1953 image, and it sold for £6,250. The next Cartier-Bresson, "Scanno, Abruzzo, Italy", 1951, printed later, 1980's I suspect, went for £10,000.

Lot 9, "Memories by Air Mail" was an interesting image by Josef Sudek from 1971, a feather lying on top of scattered letters. "Interesting but not the kind of Sudek that people want," somebody commented to me. The estimate at £7,000-10,000 was too high in my opinion, and it went unsold.

The quality of Raoul Ubac prints vary wildly I find; but the solarised portrait of Agui Ubac, a vintage 1940 print was beautiful, and sold for £10,000.

But there were many examples here of "the right names, but not the images people want". Grete Stern, an interesting photographer who studied at the Bauhaus, was represented here in lot 13, a 1927 portrait of Bernhard Minetti and fairly ordinary. It failed to sell, as did the Jaromír Funke print of Children Playing, part of the work he produced before he became a modernist. It was the same story with Julia Margaret Cameron's Miss Huth, "From Life, Freshwater, April 1868" and "Adeline Norman, 1874". The estimates were I suspect just too high for the work.

There were three wonderful gravures by Alvin Langdon Coburn, with the best one, "Moonlight", selling for an impressive £5,625.

Bill Brandt's "Nude with Elbow" was a cliché in the London auctions 20 years ago, but it's difficult to find a good print of it these days. Lot 23 was a particularly nice print. It was dedicated to Arnold Newman and sold for £15,000.

It's rare to find Japanese photography from the pre-war and immediate post-war periods in London auctions, but there were some interesting examples here. Lot 26, "Thundering Sea Spray" by Yoshiyuki Iwase from 1948, sold for £3,500. It was followed by an untitled 1930s work by Osamu Shiihara, which sold for £4,750. The highest seller in this group was an untitled 1955 nude by Yoshiyuki Iwase, which sold for £5,000.

I always keep a lookout for Dora Maar in photography auctions. There were three prints here, but these were not the sought-after experimental or surrealist works, but images taken for magazines. The best, lot 30, a fashion portrait, sold for £6,875, while the other two failed to find a buyer. Lot 33, a vintage Erwin Blumenfeld circa 1947, half the body covered by frosted glass, was okay but not great, and went unsold.

I liked lot 40 and 41, 1936 images of Buenos Aires by Horacio Coppola. I just found the estimates of £5,000-7,000 way too high. Lot 45 was a fantastic and harrowing image by Robert Capa taken in Madrid in 1936 or 37 of a woman standing amidst the rubble of a bombed-out building. It was a vintage print and sold for £4,375.

While some of the Cartier-Bresson prints sold, many others didn't and among the latter was lot 50, which surprised me. "Barcelona, Spain" was an early work from 1933, the year after Cartier-Bresson bought his first Leica camera. The image was of a man walking alongside a building with a mural of two men looking up, while touching his head. This was printed in 1946, and though clearly an important piece, it failed to sell, despite a reasonable estimate of £40,000-60,000. Then came three of the photographer's 1945 images of the Dessau transit camp. The first one, of displaced persons at the camp, went unsold. The iconic one, a printed later, probably 1980s, of the moment when a former Gestapo informer is identified, went for £10,000. This was followed by a vintage print of a soldier spraying a former prisoner with DDT. Estimated at £30,000-50,000, it went unsold.

Another important Cartier-Bresson image, the 1938 "Visit of Cardinal Pacelli, Montmartre, Paris", a print from the 1957 portfolio, was estimated at £25,000-35,000 but also went unsold.

There were some great Josef Koudelka images here (Editor's note: Eric Franck was Koudelka's dealer for many years): Lot 74, the famous "Reconstruction of a homicide", the young gypsy suspected of being guilty of murder, was estimated at £18,000-23,000, but went unsold. Lot 87, Koudelka's "Pop Festival, Buxton, Derbyshire, England, 1973", faired better and sold for £8,750. Lot 93, Koudelka's masterful "Portugal, 1976", of an elderly woman talking to a child with an elderly man in the background, sold for £22,500. There were two Kudelka images from the Prague uprising in 1968. The first one, lot 97, an angry crowd surrounding a Russian tank, was estimated at £12,000-18,000. It failed to sell, but the next one, of two young men defiantly carrying a flag through the streets, found a buyer at £7,500.

The auction ended with two prints by Pentti Sammallathi from the 1992 series "Solovki, White Sea, Russia", selling for £6,875 and £4,375 respectively. I suspect that the auction would have worked better with the inclusion of a few more quality works, and the exclusion of some of the weaker material here. But I'll look forward to Part II.

Michael Diemar is a London-based collector and consultant. He is also editor-in-chief of The Classic, a new free magazine about classic photography. He is a long-time writer about the photography scene, writing extensively for several Scandinavian photography publications, as well as for the E-Photo Newsletter and I Photo Central.