Issue #8  12/1/1999
And Then There Were The Auctions

The November auctions provided the bookends to the week's activities.

Millon & Robert opened the week off.  Its two big prints were from the 1930s.  The first was a vintage Henri Cartier-Bresson print of the Carousel, 1934.  It broke just over into its estimated range at 155,000 French Francs plus premium of roughly 11% (about $27,500) and sold to American dealer Lee Marks.  The next print, another vintage Cartier-Bresson (Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues) sold for 60,000 FF plus premium.  Overall the sale sold over $180,000 worth of photography and had a buy-in rate of nearly 50%.  Some of the photographs that failed to meet their reserve include the cover lot Tabard (lot 234) a double exposure of the dancer Georges Pomies, 1928; Brassai's Le Faucheur, a bronze by Picasso (lot 38); and Ilse Bing's Bec de Gaz, Paris, 1934.  All of these are still available on a private sale basis through auction expert Viviane Esders.  You can reach her by email at:  esders@club-internet.fr .

The Tabard and the Bing were the most tempting to me.

Next up was Piasa with gallery owner Michele Chomette as expert.  This was a two-part auction with one part a "remainder" sale of the Dora Maar images from last year and the other largely a 19th century sale.  The two cover lots created most of the action. 

The Baldus Les Remparts D'Avignon (Avignon Floods) was a print that had serious condition problems, but was actually a gelatin salt print rather than an albumen print as was catalogued.  American dealer Charles Isaacs underbid to two phone bidders, one of whom got the print for 125,000 FF, plus premium against an estimated range of 10,000 to 12,000 FF. Yes, it certainly was cheaper than the Jammes print that sold a few weeks earlier at 32,000 pounds sterling plus premium of 15%, but neither print was worth the money to this observer. Privately on this trip, I bought a smaller but absolutely beautiful print of this same image.

The second cover was the important Dora Maar Double-Portrait (Possibly a Self-Portrait).  I had predicted that the price would be over six to seven times the high estimate.  I wasn't wrong.  Edwynn Houk, who had also picked up an earlier version of the image at a much lower price, rode this one down at 220,000 FF against an estimated range of 25,000 to 30,000 FF.  You can also add the premium to that bid.  As you can see, French auction estimates are largely useless.

Lee Marks also picked up Maar's Gamin au Coin de la Rue des Genets, Une Chaussette Rabattue sur le Pied, 1933 for 76,000 FF plus premium. 

The late prints did surprisingly well. 

Very little was bought in at this sale due to reasonable estimates and aggressive phone bidders.  Condition was problematic on more than a few lots.

The final auction of "the week" was held on the Monday following Paris Photo.  Etude Tajan's 334 lots were largely 19th century and the expert is the knowledgeable and sociable Serge Kakou.  Tajan had rented Drouot's smallest room for the sale.  It was frankly ridiculous and it cost the house bids from disgusted potential bidders who fled the stuffy jammed room (or hallway outside: it was that packed) to the bar across the street.  There were plenty of passes on the earlier lots and only a few lots stood out on the rest.  A Theodore Leeuw daguerreotype of a woman dressed in Arab garb brought 91,000 FF plus premium.  John Cramb's Palestine in 1860 brought 95,000 FF from a French collector.  A group of Henri Bechard prints brought 68,000 FF.

And then we came to the two Gustave Le Gray prints--the first seascape prints to come to auction after the Jammes sale and its startling price on the Great Wave.  But this wasn't the Jammes sale and these prints weren't of the same caliber.  They were a bit weak on color, had some development stains, light scratches, etc.  The first was Brig on the Water.  It brought a low 130,000 FF, plus premium.  The second, a study of clouds over the water, was nicer but still only made 100,000 FF and was brought by French dealer Philippe Doublet.  Doublet then walked across the street to the Cav Drouot and sold the print to one of those who had given up on the cramped room for double what Doublet had just paid for it.

A nice and very rare variant of Nadar's balloon basket brought 115,000 FF from a phone bidder.  The negative apparently broke early on and very few prints of this image were made.

To add to the day's frustration, many lots were preempted by the French Foreign Ministry and later by the Villa de Marseille.  The latter preempted most of the Adolphe Terris prints but finally ran out of money and the last few slipped by.

Oh, and before I forget, the Beaujolais Nouveau came in while I was there.  It made the rain seem to disappear for a while.  It's a good drinking average vintage, but it did perk up the day and the week.