Issue #81  11/30/2004
Sotheby's Sells Over $4.7 Million and Nearly 84% of Multi-Owner Auction

By Stephen Perloff
Editor of The Photograph Collector and Photo Review

After the success of Christie's sale, just when you thought it could not get any better... Well, Sotheby's rarely disappoints. The sale had hardly any let up.

Ansel Adams's The Tetons and the Snake River (a 1978 print, $18,000-$22,000) still brought $36,000 from the phone. A phone bidder topped Michael Shapiro, consulting on his cell phone, for Adams's Mount McKinley and Wonder Lake, Alaska ($20,000-$30,000) at $52,800. And different phone bidders took the next four Adams lots: Sierra Nevada from Lone Pine ($12,000-$18,000) for $26,400; Moonrise ($25,000-$35,000) for $31,200; Mt. Williamson, Sierra Nevada ($10,000-$15,000) for $24,000; and Aspens, Northern New Mexico ($15,000-$20,000) for $69,600!

Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras actually went a bit below the low estimate at $31,200. Likewise Portfolio Two at $45,600. Portfolio Three went at the low estimate, $60,000.

The Oswald Gallery, who bought a couple of other Adams prints, came up short against a phone bidder on a rare, vintage Rocks and Barnacles ($7,000-$10,000), which climbed to $21,600. Then Clearing Winter Storm ($20,000-$30,000) blew by at $43,200.

And that was just in the first 23 lots.

Jan Kesner went for Brett Weston's White Sands portfolio at $28,800, within the estimates. A set of 83 lantern slides of Wells Cathedral by Frederick Evans, from the collection of George Tice, climbed the sea of steps over estimate to $36,000. Eugène Atget's La Vilette, Rue Asselin ($10,000-$15,000) hooked a winning bid of $62,400.

Lee Marks outstroked all comers to capture a deluxe edition of Doris Ulmann's Roll, Jordan, Roll ($12,000-$18,000) for $57,600, a record for this work by a wide margin. A Richard Benson print of Paul Strand's Wall Street ($25,000-$35,000) clocked in at $26,400. Lewis Hine's Young Girl in a Carolina Cotton Mill spun out a bid of $72,000, over estimate and good for tenth place on the day. Sotheby's identified the phone bidder as the Howard Greenberg Gallery.

An album of Civil War bigwigs was the first notable lot to pass. But a lot of four daguerreotypes of James Duncan Graham attributed to John Plumbe, Jr., went within estimate at $28,800 and a half plate of his son went well over the high estimate to $60,000.

A group of six nude studies by Manuel Alvarez Bravo more than doubled the high estimate to $26,400 and the Bravo portfolio ($30,000-$40,000) elicited $40,800, both from the same phone bidder (Ramis Barquet is our suspect here).

A great, early modernist vintage print by Imogen Cunningham of the Mills College Amphitheatre, 1920 ($70,000-$100,000) was the site of its own drama, as Peter MacGill on a cell phone finally took it at $209,600, good for third place.

Edward Weston's Prow failed to leave the dock, but Jack Hastings went home with his Church at Laguna, New Mexico at $22,800, over estimate. A phone bidder went just over estimate for Weston's nude of Charis at $38,400. And his Pepper (2P) went into Edwynn Houk's market basket just underestimate at $78,000, tied for eighth place.

Paul Strand's intense portrait of his first wife Rebecca saw an equally intense battle between Houk and Robert Burge. Burge had to more than double the high estimate at $176,000 (fifth place) to win the prize. Bill Brandt's London (Nude with Bent Elbow) continued its steady climb to $26,400, a record for this image, too, I believe.

A rare, vintage print of Henri Cartier-Bresson's Valencia, 1933, brought $78,000 (tied for eighth). A phone bidder held off Lee Marks to take Renato Fazioli's fascinating photocollage, Le Scale, 1932 ($20,000-$25,000), for $66,000. Man Ray's Rayograph Emak Bakia ($30,000-$40,000) went to order for $57,600. Michael Mazzei raised his hand for Man Ray's Bras (Arm), just at the low estimate, $72,000 (tied for tenth). A phone bidder went to $55,200, over estimate and over Paul Hertzmann, to win the Rayograph with Buttons.

Here Feininger's The Photojournalist passed at $19,000. And Eisenstaedt's Children at a Puppet Theatre brought $39,600.

Weegee's Boston, Seat of Culture, showing, discreetly, the interior of a bathroom, forced Jack Hastings to more than double the high estimate to $20,400 to wrest it away from Lee Marks.

Tom Gitterman took a phone bidder over estimate for Harry Callahan's Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago, but the phone bidder, not to be disappointed again like the Cubs, won this one at $52,800. Callahan's Grasses, Detroit ($6,000-$9,000) was mowed down for $31,200. His oversize nude of Eleanor ($20,000-$30,000) brought an oversize price as the phone dashed Peter MacGill's hopes at $84,000 (tied for sixth place).

But no time to rest. The next lot was Robert Frank's Hoboken, the image of two women looking out of two different windows, one obscured by a flag, printed not later than 1966 ($80,000-$120,000). This time Howard Greenberg topped MacGill at $198,400, the fourth highest price of the sale.

An order bidder could have bought a lot of martinis for the $84,000 paid for Irving Penn's Girl Drinking (M.J.R.) ($30,000-$50,000) (tied for sixth place). Then another elegant Penn, Mermaid Dress, hit its high estimate at $60,000. And his Woman with Roses on Her Arm sold above estimate at $43,200. Penn's Cigarette #34 ($8,000-$12,000) was smoked by Jeffrey Fraenkel at $20,400.

The Helmut Newton portfolio 15 Photographs sold just below the high estimate at $55,200. Fraenkel was back for the similarly named portfolio by Lee Friedlander ($20,000-$30,000) at $50,400. Fourteen of the fifteen photographs from the Garry Winogrand portfolio Fifteen (not "15") Photographs ($15,000–$25,000) went to the phone for $72,000, a third lot tying for tenth place. The same bidder came back for 13 of the 15 photographs from Winogrand's 15 (not "Fifteen") Big Shots ($10,000-$20,000) for $36,000.

Next up was Arbus. Child with a Toy Hand Grenade (a Selkirk print) exploded just at the low estimate, $60,000. A vintage print of A Family on Their Lawn One Sunday in Westchester, N.Y., inscribed to a psychotherapist Arbus had once spoken to on the phone, went, appropriately, to a phone bidder for $232,000, just over the low estimate but good for the second highest price of the sale. Another vintage inscribed print, this time of Eddie Carmel, a Jewish Giant with His Parents in the Living Room of Their Home, Bronx, N.Y., dwarfed even the previous print, as the same phone bidder topped the high estimate at $388,800, also the top price of the day. A Selkirk print of Boy with a Straw Hat Waiting to March in a Pro-War Parade, N.Y.C., was rounded up by Joseph Bellows for $36,000, at the mid-point of the estimate.

Mapplethorpe's flowers continued their hothouse prices as his color Jack in the Pulpit ($25,000-$35,000) brought $52,800. And just in time for the holiday, Howard Read treated himself to Eggleston's Outskirts of Morton, Mississippi, Halloween at the high estimate, $60,000.

At the end of the day the buy-in rate was a mere 16.3% with a 94.6% sold value and the total was $4,718,160, or a striking $27,918 per lot sold.

Denise Bethel said, "Our October 16th auction was one of the most successful various-owners' sales of photographs ever to be held in New York. All of our clients were extremely pleased with the small size of the sale, and our strategy in making the sale a select one certainly paid off: our average lot value was by far the highest, and our buy-in rate by far the lowest, of all the photographs auctions in town. We again were thrilled to have the leading lot of the season, Diane Arbus's Eddie Carmel, a Jewish Giant, which sold for $388,800, one of the most expensive Arbus photographs ever sold."

(Copyright ©2004 The Photograph Collector.)

My thanks to Steve Perloff and The Photograph Collector Newsletter for giving me permission to use this information. The Photograph Collector, which is a wonderful newsletter that I can heartily recommend, is published monthly and is available by subscription for $149.95. You can phone 1-215-891-0214 and charge your subscription or send a check or money order to: The Photograph Collector, 340 East Maple Ave., Suite 200, Langhorne, PA 19047. Or to order The Photograph Collector Newsletter online, go to: http://www.photoreview.org.