Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Auction: Photographs, New York, March 30, 2009 @Sotheby's

With the arrival of the first Spring season auction catalogues, we're now headed into a busy month of sales, AIPAD, and show openings, all timed to happen relatively simultaneously to take advantage of collector visits and focus. Sotheby's is up first this season, with its Photography sale (in two sessions) on March 30.

There are a total of 186 lots in this sale, for a total estimate of $4488000. Here's the breakdown:

Total Low lots (high estimate $10000 or lower): 55
Total Low estimate (sum of high estimates of Low lots): $425000

Total Mid lots (high estimate between $10000 and $50000): 114
Total Mid estimate: $2163000

Total High lots (high estimate over $50000): 17
Total High estimate: $1900000
If we compare these statistics to the pre sale numbers for the October 2008 Sotheby's sale, the freezing impact of the recession is obvious and the proof for the hypothesis that the high end work would become more scarce in these tough times is clear. Last fall, Sotheby's had 249 lots on offer for a total estimate of over $10 million dollars; the total estimate here is less than half that much. The impact is most clearly seen on the high end lots, which ultimately drive the total proceeds for the house. In October, there were 39 High lots, with a total estimate of more than $6 million dollars; the estimate here is a third of that, on less than half as many lots.

The most talked about image in this sale is the anonymous Daguerreotype of New York from 1848 (lot 77), potentially one of the earliest images of New York ever captured as a photograph (image at right, top). I read several articles about whether this indeed was the first image of New York or not. The catalogue text is well researched but ultimately open ended in its conclusions.
For our collection, the standout images in this sale are the four lots of Anna Atkins floral cyanotyopes from the 1850s (lots 82, 83, 84, and 85; lot 84 Cheilanthes Radiata at right, middle). There have been very few Atkins cyanotypes at auction in past few years, and we lost the last one that was available to another bidder. For flower collectors like ourselves, Atkins is really the first key figure in the medium (although Fox Talbot did make a handful of floral/botanical images of course). We'll certainly take a closer look at these during the previews.

There is also a nice set of Edward Weston nudes of Sonya Nostowiak (lot 47, at right, bottom). We own another image from this series (here) and would normally be interested in these images if they were being sold individually. However, they are being sold as one lot (5 images), which makes them much less attractive to us. We'll still take a look however. We also like the cover lot, Robert Mapplethorpe's Calla Lily, 1986 (lot 162), although his Callas have certainly run up in price much further than images he made of other flower types.

The lot by lot catalogue (with online condition reports) can be found here.
March 30, 2009
1334 York Avenue
New York, NY 10021

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