Upcoming auctions of photographs



Sales of photographs are attracting an ever-growing population of collectors and the rise in demand was reflected in last year’s auction prices with twelve 7-digit results, a general price index up 25% and an auction turnover ten times higher than 10 years ago.
In New York at the beginning of April, Phillips, Sotheby’s and Christie’s will be offering several hundred photographs with estimated prices ranging from $800 to $500,000. The sales will be held on April 1 at Phillips, April 1 (evening sale) & 2 at Sotheby’s, and April 3 at Christie’s.

American photography …

Location oblige, the works on offer are essentially oriented towards U.S. demand with the majority of photographs by local artists. At Christie’s notably three-quarters of the selected photos are “home-grown”. On the morning of April 3, Christie’s is organizing a special sale entirely dedicated to Ansel Easton ADAMS with 25 lots (at prices ranging from $8,000 to $500,000). Adams’ work is currently very much in demand and he also has four lots at the earlier Phillips sale and nine at the Sotheby’s sale. The American Anselm Adams – who founded the f/64 group with Edward Henry WESTON in 1932 – introduced photography into the permanent collections of the MoMA by opening a dedicated section in 1940. A pioneer in promoting photography as an artistic medium and a master of contrast, Adams is one of the most sought-after photographers on the auction market. More than 40 photographs by Adams have crossed the $100,000 threshold over the past 10 years, and all of these changed hands in New York where supply and demand are particularly well matched. In April, another six results could well join the 40, including a high-contrast California landscape (Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada from Lone Pine, California, 1941) estimated between $300,000 and $500,000 at Christie’s. Another favorite theme is a view of the Yosemite Valley, a subject that generated the artist’s auction record at $600,000 on 21 June 2010 (Sotheby’s) in a much larger format than the one offered on April 3 (which is estimated $30,000 – $50,000).

The other major American photographers present in the catalogues for these sales are Robert FRANK (1924) (with a fresh auction record of $550,000 in 2013 for Trolley – New Orleans), Diane ARBUS (after a new record of $500,000 in 2013 for Identical Twins), Edward Henry WESTON (Shells estimated between $300,000 and $500,000 on April 1 at Sotheby’s evening sale), Irving PENN with no less than 25 lots on April 3 at Christie’s carrying estimates between from 10 and 250 thousand dollars (the latter price for Lisa with roses on her arm, which would be a record price for this photograph), Edward STEICHEN (his portrait of Gloria Swanson at Sotheby’s could reiterate the $450,000 hammered in 2007 at Phillips de Pury & Company) as well as Sally MANN, Philippe HALSMAN and Dorothea LANGE.

The most popular European photographers

Among the top lots in the New York sales, on April 1, Sotheby’s is offering a MAN RAY Rayograph estimated $400,000 – $600,000. Remember that on 4 April 2013, another Rayograph (Untitled – 1922) by the Surrealist artist generated his first 7-digit result for a photograph (Christie’s New York) and that collectors are particularly fond of this type of work. The inflation of Man Ray’s prices could have a positive impact on the price of László MOHOLY-NAGY’s Fotogramm that is also included in the Sotheby’s sale.For the American public, the most important European photographers are, among others, André KERTÉSZ, BRASSAÏ and Horst P. HORST, but also Henri CARTIER-BRESSON (16 lots at Christie’s, including a number of portraits of Henri Matisse offered between $5,000 and $7,000, 9 lots at Phillips and 1 at Sotheby’s), Helmut NEWTON (with a version of his famous naked mannequins – Sie Kommen naked, Paris, 1981 – estimated $20,000 – $30,000) and August SANDER (with a portrait of the painter Heinrich Hoerle [1931] estimated $150,000 – 250,000 at Sotheby’s on April 2). On 9 April 2008, the same face generated Sander’s third-best auction result ($130,000) at Phillips de Pury & Company. There is also a selection of majestic African clichés by the English photographer Nick BRANDT, the most famous of which, Elephant drinking (2007, 25 copies) will be offered at Christie’s for $50,000 – $70,000. A larger format picture of the same elephant generated Brandt’s auction record when it fetched over $95,600 at Christie’s in Paris on 17 November 2012.

Although it still only represents 1.2% of total global art auction turnover, art photography is a fast-growing sector. Among the multitude of images generated nowadays, the medium’s big names (historical, Modern and Contemporary) are enjoying “safe-bet” status ​​and their prices keep rising. In the early 2000s, the threshold of $500,000 was reached exceptionally once or twice a year, whereas last year 33 photographs exceeded that threshold.