Issue #39  12/19/2001
Le Gray Auction Action in Paris

What started out as just one of those Drouot (the building in Paris where most auctions are held) myths wound up as just another auction. Back in October, Millon & Associes put out a folder with nine photographs (although some observers said it was ten) out on top of some tables along with lots of other lower grade antiques. The contents of the folder were estimated at that time to be worth 10,000 francs. What made this particular folder so interesting was that it contained all Gustave Le Gray photographs, including the rare and highly sought after Beech Tree or Le Hêtre.

Needless to say, after all the buzzing of several excited French photography dealers, the auction house felt that something was amiss with this little folder. Finally a book dealer, trying to wangle a job as expert for the house, spilled the beans (for my French friends that means to talk about a secret); and the auction house quickly scooped up the folder and rescheduled the group for their own little auction on December 3. This allowed lots of photography dealers and collectors to view during Paris Photo week. The French franc is approximately 7.26 to the dollar.

Lot 1, The Entrance to the Port of Brest failed to sell at 90,000 francs. It was a weak print and the image was not very exciting; however, the image is not a common one.

Lot 2, Groupe de Naivres (Sète) sold for approximately 277,000 francs with the premium of 10.764%. It was a nice print and well worth this money.

Lot 3, a small print of a group of trees, remained unsold.

Lot 4, Arbre Creux Dans la Forêt de Fontainebleau, sold for just under a half million francs, including the premium. As is typical of this scarce image the outer edges are actually stronger than the center portion of the picture, but still it was an acceptable print, especially for this negative.

Lot 5 was the Beech Tree. There are three other copies that I am aware of, including the one in the Getty's collection, the one sold at the Jammes sale to Sheik Al Thani, and one in another major private collection. This was a very good print, but it had one development spot that was not too noticeable. The print sold to the phone for a mere 1,329,168 francs. While this was a very high price for a photograph in France, it was still a far cry from the Sotheby's Jammes sale in 1999, when a print of this image sold to Sheik Al Thani for 419,500 pounds sterling.

Lot 6, another small tree print, remained unsold.

Lot 7, another small tree print of the forest of Fontainebleau, sold to Paris dealer Leon Herschtritt for over 332,000 francs, including the premium.

Lot 8, a photograph of artwork, sold to the Paris dealer Di Maria brothers for a mere 2215 francs.

Lot 9, a group by a pond near Camp de Châlons-sur-Marne, sold to the phone for just over 476,000 francs. I have never seen this image before. The print quality was just average--not bad, but not exciting.

But the auction house could have done better on many of these if they had properly followed through with all their client calls. I, for one, was not called on my pre-arranged phone--just one of the many problems when dealing with overseas auctions.