surgeon Dr. John
The Blind Man and
David Octavius Hill
and Robert Adamson:
The Artist and the
Gravedigger, c. 1845.
Hill and Adamson:
The Minnow Pool
of Charles Finlay),
Hands of the
A Portrait, 1922.
Nude on Sand, 1936.
Saltine Box, 1922.
Ide Collar, 1922.
Images de Deauville,
A: Edward S. Curtis:
The North American
Indian, Vol. 1-20,
B: From Curtis,
Mike and Doug Starn:
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.
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
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
Ide Collar, originally conceived as a Vanity
Fair magazine advertisement for a shirt
collar company in 1922, snared $189,500
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
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
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.
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
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