Issue #251  6/10/2019
Sotheby's May London Auction Brings in Just £966,875

By Michael Diemar

Lot 20, Richard Avedon's "Dovima with Elephants", sold for £50,000.
Lot 20, Richard Avedon's "Dovima with Elephants", sold for £50,000.

The Sotheby's auction was dominated by fashion and editorial photography. It started off with Helmut Newton prints. All lots below include the buyer's premium of 25%, and the pound was about $1.28 at the time.

Lot 1, "Fashion Study, Paris, 1975", went for £12,500 against an estimate of £10,000-15,000. It was followed by "Bergstrom and Meccano Set, Paris, 1977" selling for 15,000. "Nadja Adjusting Stocking", lot 3, failed to find a buyer, but lot 4, "Portrait of Ernesto Esposito and Frederica Della Volpe did, at £15,000. Lot 5, with two images, "Saddle III" and Jean-Louis David cuts the hair of Eva M." failed to sell. Perhaps it was the estimate of £30,000-50,000.

Next up was Melvin Sokolsky's "Sidekick, Harper's Bazaar, Paris, 1965", selling for £5,250. Newton's "Regine at home" failed to sell. Lot 10, Horst's "Lisa Fonssagrieves-Penn with Turban" is an exquisite image.I liked it in this small size, 24 x 18.5 cm, and it sold for a mere £3,000. It was followed by the more famous, "Mainbocher Corset", the last image Horst took before his departure from Paris following the outbreak of World War II. The estimate was on the high side for this later print, £10,000-15,000, and it went unsold.

For a good many years, "New York City (Girls in the Windows) 1960", was the only image by Ormond Gigli that would turn up in the auctions. This time it failed to sell. but lot 14, his "Lips" from 1960 did, for £10,000.

Horst's slightly surreal "Nails in Technicolor", a 1941 image, printed later, sold for £10,000. More color followed. Lot 19, Erwin Blumenfeld, a posthumously printed portfolio of ten dye transfer prints, went for £22,500.

Up next was lot 20, a printed later of Richard Avedon's "Dovima with Elephants", selling for £50,000. Lot 23, Peter Lindbergh's famous "The Wild Ones", with all the supermodels, shot in Brooklyn didn't fare so well. Estimated at an aggressive £40,000-50,000, it went unsold.

Lots 28 and 29 were portraits of two fashion legends, Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent, photographed by Horst. The former sold, at £7,500, the latter didn't.

Irving Penn didn't appeal as much to the buyers this time. Lot 30, "Girl in Bed" 1949, a harsh looking print, didn't sell and neither did lot 31, "Nude 150". They were followed by two flower studies by Constantin Brancusi, both entitled "Bouquet": lot 33 sold for £50,000, lot 34 for £35,000.

Next up were two flowers by Robert Mapplethorpe. Not among his strongest I thought. Lot 35, Orchid selling for £15,000, lot 36, "Tiger Lily" for £11,250.

Lot 40, an atmospheric 1951 image of a London underground station by Robert Frank went for £12,500. And then finally an Irving Penn print found a buyer, his "Fishmonger, London, 1950", selling for £37,500.

Lots 44 and 45 were images by Josef Koudelka, and he didn't sell here either.

There were early works by Hiroshi Sugimoto. Lot 52, White Mantled Colobos" from the series "Dioramas", 1982 didn't sell; but the following, "Polar Bear" from the same series did, at £12,500. Lot 58, a strong image by Lewis Baltz, "M-20", sold for £8,750.

And there were more Helmut Newton prints. Lot 63, "Domestic Nude X, Young woman lying under my desk", 1992 was estimated £40,000-60,000 but didn't meet the reserve. "Untitled (Bel Air)" did and sold for 37,5000. "Erica's Accident", 1987, with a nude model on crutches reached £15,000; but lot 66, "Miss Livingstone", and lot 67, "Debra and Red" went unsold.

Next up was lot 68, a vintage print of Irving Penn's famous portrait of Marlene Dietrich, and it sold, for £22,500. Next came Mapplethorpe's 1986 portrait of Andy Warhol, selling for £25,000. A great portrait and I had expected it to go higher.

Lot 73, Peter Beard's "Loliondo Lion Charge for the Last Game/Last Word from Paradise", a monumental piece measuring 101.5 x 283 cm, went for £75,000 against an estimate of £60,000-80,000.

Irving Penn picked up again here and lot 78, "Hippie Family (Kelly), San Francisco" 1967 sold for a reasonable £8,750.

Lot 82, Neil Leifer's striking "Aerial of Muhammad Ali victorious after his round two knockdown of Cleveland Williams during the 1966 Heavyweight Title Fight at the Astrodome", Houston, Texas, November 14, 1966 sold for £8,125.

There was a Thomas Ruff print from the same series as the one that set a new auction record at Phillips, but this one, lot 86, failed to sell.

Lot 87, a Warhol Polaroid of Carly Simon, went unsold but the following, a Polaroid "Nude Model (Female)" sold for £2,500.

Lot 94, Peter Lindbergh, Supermodels Shot in Santa Monica, 1988, sold for £75,000.
Lot 94, Peter Lindbergh, Supermodels Shot in Santa Monica, 1988, sold for £75,000.

Peter Lindbergh was back again with lot 94, more supermodels, shot in Santa Monica 1988 and this one fared better, selling at £75,000.

Images of Kate Moss are usually a "sure thing" in the London auctions but perhaps the market has been just too saturated. Lot 100, "Kate at Mine" (2006) by Mario Testino, was estimated at £70,000-90,000 and went unsold.

And there was more Newton: lot 103, "Paris Studio", 1977, which sold for £3,500. Lot 106 was yet one more Lindbergh image of supermodels, taken in 1989, but despite the modest estimate of £7,000-10,000, it went unsold.

Then came more Newton, lot 107, "Mercedes at Home, Paris, 1975", which sold for £10,000. Lot 110, his "Jenny Kapitan, Pension Dorian, Berlin, 1977 failed to sell, which surprised me as it's among his most famous images.

Next up was Michel Comte's "Helena Christensen II", 1993 selling for £23,750.

Another no sale for Kate Moss in lot 114, this one a portrait of her in a torn veil by Albert Watson, taken in Marrakech, 1993. Richard Avedon's classic "Penelope Tree Mask by Ungaro, Paris Studio, 1968" had more success, selling for £8,750.

Newton made one last appearance here, lot 117, "View at the Villa d'Este", circa 1980 but found no buyer despite the low estimate of 2,000-3,000.

The auction finished with David Yarrow's "The Usual Suspects", a bar scene, a model and assorted ne'er do wells and worse, a wolf approaching down the counter, sold for £37,500.

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.