Magazine Home  |  News  |  Features  |  Reviews  |  Books  |  People  |  Horoscope  

daguerreotype of 
surgeon Dr. John 
Collins Warren, 

The Blind Man and 
His Reader, 

 David Octavius Hill 
and Robert Adamson:
The Artist and the 
Gravedigger, c. 1845.

 Hill and Adamson: 
The Minnow Pool 
(The Children 
of Charles Finlay),
 c. 1845.

Tina Modotti: 
Hands of the 

Alfred Stieglitz: 
Georgia O'Keeffe:
A Portrait, 1922.

 Edward Weston, 
Nude on Sand, 1936.

Paul Outerbridge: 
Saltine Box, 1922.

Ide Collar, 1922.

Images de Deauville, 
c. 1936.

Andre Kertesz: 
Fork, 1928.

A: Edward S. Curtis: 
The North American 
Indian, Vol. 1-20, 

B: From Curtis, 
portfolio 2.

Sarah Bernhardt, 

 Mike and Doug Starn: 
Seascape, 1987-88.

to market, to market...

photography & then some by Judd Tully

Photography at auction scored impressively in April in New York as Christie's, Sotheby's and Swann Galleries tallied a robust total of $6.3 million in sales--with a somewhat less impressive buy-in rate averaging 29 percent. The action began at Sotheby's on April 18 with a superb single-owner collection of 19th-century daguerreotypes and stereographs from the estate of the late (and reclusive) New Yorker, Abraham Stransky. The giant trove brought $745,864, close to twice its high estimate, and boosted the overall sale total to $2.4 million. Stransky was quite secretive about his extraordinary collection, painstakingly assembled during 40-odd years of buying. His heirs approached the auction house out of the blue. Of those old gems, the riveting portrait by an anonymous American photographer of surgeon Dr. John Collins Warren, sternly posed with a wax model of a human heart and a fetal human skeleton, hit $96,000 (est. $30,000-$50,000). Of the non-Stransky 19th-century material, a wonderful daguerreotype double-portrait, The Blind Man and His Reader, the former in dark glasses and the latter holding a copy of The New York Herald, sold for $23,000 (est. $5,000-$7,000) to Pierre Apraxine, curator for the Gilman Paper Company. David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson's calotype image from circa 1845,The Artist and the Gravedigger, sold for $10,925 (est. $8,000-$12,000) to New York dealer Hans P. Kraus, Jr., who also nabbed another rare Hill & Adamson calotype, The Minnow Pool (The Children of Charles Finlay), for $19,550 (est. $5,000-$7,000). Tina Modotti's expressive Hands of the Puppeteer was the top lot of the 20th- century offerings, selling for $96,000 (est. $80,000-$120,000) to Beth Gates Warren, the former head of Sotheby's photography department. Alfred Stieglitz's moody Georgia O'Keeffe: A Portrait failed to sell at $75,000 (est. $100,000-$150,000). It last sold at Sotheby's New York in October 1990 for $99,000 (all realized prices quoted include the buyers' premium of 15% up to $50,000 and 10% thereafter). Market acceptance of six- figure prices for single images is still something of a rarity. More successful was the famously sensual vintage print by Edward Weston, Nude on Sand from 1936, that went for $59,200 (est. $50,000-$70,000) to Hot Sox impressario and collector Gary Wolkowitz On April 23, Christie's just missed breaking its record photo-sale total, posting $3.1 million in sales, of which a third came from the cache of vintage Paul Outerbridge Jr. prints deaccessioned by the Laguna Art Museum. They were given to the museum by the photographer's widow and sold to raise funds for acquisitions of California art, the museum's collecting speciality. Of those masterworks,Saltine Box from 1922 sold for a record $200,500 (est. $60,000- $80,000) to an anonymous buyer, making it the eighth most expensive photography lot to sell at auction. It broke the previous artist record set in 1990 at Sotheby's when Outerbridge's masked Self-Portrait made $99,000 at the blockbuster Graham Nash single-owner sale. Ide Collar, originally conceived as a Vanity Fair magazine advertisement for a shirt collar company in 1922, snared $189,500 (est. $70,000-$90,000). Outerbridge's c.1936 Carbro color print and cover lot,Images de Deauville, fetched $96,000 (est. $30,000-$40,000) after a fierce bidding war. SoHo dealer James Danziger won the prize for a client. The Outerbridge lots soared to a total hammer price of $938,200, over their presale estimate of $700,000. Christie's will offer another batch from the cash-strapped museum in the fall. Fork, Andre Kertesz's iconic image from 1928, conceived after a dinner at Fernand Leger's studio, sold for a record $90,500 (est. $90,000-$120,000). Christie's was less successful in the 19th century, stung by the market rejection of Edward S. Curtis' epic publishing project, "The North American Indian." In an oddball kind of marketing aproach, Christie's first put 20 of the numbered Curtis portfolios (most containing 36 photogravures) up for sale individually, then computed the aggregate of the hammer prices and reoffered them as a single lot at the next highest bidding increment--in this case, $520,000. It didn't receive a single bid. As a result, the complete set, originally owned by railroad magnate James J. Hill (1838-1916), was broken up and scattered willy-nilly. (Another Curtis set sold at Sotheby's in 1993 for a record $662,500). On April 24, Swann Galleries realized its highest tally to date when its sale totaled $818,628. Swann continues to profit from less-expensive modern and contemporary material rejected by giants Christie's and Sotheby's and subsequently consigned to its hands. "The results of this auction," said Daile Kaplan, director of photography at Swann's, "demonstrated a noticeable shift in the market toward modern images, and they brought strong prices." Even so, the most dramatic lot hailed from 1859 in the handsome guise of actress Sarah Bernhardt at the age of 14, taken by French photo legend Nadar. It brought $17,250 (est. $3,000-$4,000), and dealer James Danziger got his second cover lot. Though the image is indeed rare, it was printed in large numbers on postcard stock in 1875 and used by the actress to give out to her legion of fans. On the contemporary front, a work by Mike and Doug Starn (aka The Starn Twins), Seascape, a distressed and nailed silver print from 1987-88, brought $3,680 (est. $4,000-$5,000). The unusual five-day time gap between Christie's and Sotheby's sales (they usually go back-to-back) was due to the $34.4 million Camelot sideshow--the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis auction--at Sotheby's during the week of April 23. Prices there, as the famous electronics pitchman used to say on the telly, "are insane." Take, for example, Joseph R. Spies' Tom Kitten, a mounted silver print dated 3-23- 61. Tom was none other than Caroline Kennedy's cat while she resided at the White House and it meowed to a whopping $14,950 (est. $50-$75). Possibly the most incredible lot was a beat- up set of MacGregor woods housed in a red and black golf bag inscribed "JFK Washington, D.C." that sold to screen muscleman and Kennedy-clan relation Arnold Schwarzenegger for $772,500 (est. $700- $900). But in terms of real art, paintings, drawings and sculpture from the estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis realized $6.2 million of the take. Overall, the Jackie sale still fell far short of the $50.3- million Duchess of Windsor sale in 1987. Of that spotty melange, a charcoal portrait of JFK by the late Elaine de Kooning, dated 1963, sold for $63,000 (est. $1,500-$2,500). The most expensive piece of art, not surprisingly, was on the subject of horse flesh (or more properly, bloodstock), one of Mrs. Onassis' favorite pastimes. Lord Bateman's Arabian by the distinguished 18th- century British sporting painter John Wootton brought $343,500 (est. $80,000- $120,000). At least this picture had a provenance predating the White House or Aristotle Onassis years--it was commissioned by the 3rd Duke of Marlborough in 1733. Not far behind was Robert Rauschenberg's work on paper from 1960,Drawing for the President of the USA with Dante, that apparently sold to a real contemporary art collector and not a rabid Camelot fan, for $244,500 (est. $80,000-$100,000). In the mad scheme of things, it was a relative bargain. Judd Tully covers the international art market for a variety of publications, ranging from Art & Auction to The Washington Post.