Issue #51  11/27/2002
Sotheby's Regular Sale Was a More Mixed Bag

Sotheby's various owner sale the next day would be a test of the endurance of the market, a slightly shaky undertaking for a sale that had its clunkers as well as its stars. Results were decidedly mixed with a buy-in rate of 41%, higher than usual for Sotheby's, but almost respectable in these conditions. Print condition, as so often during these New York sales at all the houses, was often problematic.

Still, it was disappointing that three of the top four lots passed--Strand's New Orleans ($150,000-$250,000), which was bought later, and Stieglitz's picture of O'Keeffe's car and his portrait of O'Keeffe (both $100,000-$150,000). A couple of people noted some condition problems with the Stieglitzes, but the Strand was a very fine picture just on the edge of his move from Pictorialism to Modernism. It seemed to lose favor for some people because it did not fall squarely into either camp, but you could also consider it seminal in this transition.

Making up for those disappointments was the battle royale over the cover lot, George Hoyningen-Huene's well known Bathing Suits with Horst as one of the models. This was a wonderful vintage print, probably underestimated by close to half at $20,000-$30,000. Howard Greenberg and Michael Senft fought for it, until Greenberg finally prevailed at a stunning $109,940.

Sotheby's usually does very well with Ansel Adams and while an early print of Monolith, Face of Half Dome brought the low estimate of $35,850, a mural size (37"x58") print of Moonrise, estimated at a reasonable $60,000-$90,000, passed at $48,000. Michael Mattis redeemed Adams though by outbidding California dealer Michael Dawson for Portfolio One at $48,995.

A short run of normally reliable Curtises surrendered as only one lot sold and the best lot was withdrawn. The Frederick Evans prints fared little better as Hans Kraus bought two and the other five passed.

Edwynn Houk pushed Weston's Nude on Sand, Oceano ($6,000-$9,000) to $31,070.

Man Ray's fascinating poster with Rayograph just barely met its reserve at the low estimate, $174,500--enough to be crowned as top lot of the sale, as a phone bidder sailed away with Le Bateau Ivre. But the two parodies of Eakins paintings by someone in the circle of Eakins (both $30,000-$50,000) passed, as did Richard Avedon's portfolio Avedon/Paris ($60,000-$90,000).

The sale total of $1,438,512 was relatively low, but it was later helped substantially when Michael Mattis bought the Strand after the auction. Still, the three-sale, three-day total of $4.8 million was substantial and proved that there was still life--and money--in the market.