Ho Hum, Phillips London Photography Sale

Peter Beard, "Francis Bacon on his roof at 80 Narrow Street," London, 1972

Peter Beard, Francis Bacon on his roof at 80 Narrow Street (1972). Photo: Courtesy Phillips.

Conservative bidding made for mostly middling results, which fell within presage estimates, at Phillips’s May photography sale in London yesterday afternoon. The sale totaled £1,189,625 ($2,017,247), falling just under the low end of its presale estimate of £1,214,800-1,722,200. The sale realized 75 percent by value. Thirty-nine works were bought in for a sale rate of 82 percent by lot. Phillips’s photo sale last year, which was headlined by a collection of 77 works by Nobuyoshi Araki achieved a comparable £1,291,750 ($1,989,295), selling 76 percent by value and 70 percent by lot.

Erwin Blumenfeld bucked the auction’s overall mid-range trend, achieving a new artist record for Manina, Paris (1937). The work, which photography department head Lou Proud told artnet News, “surpasses anything that I have seen by him before,” sold for £80,500 ($136,504; all prices include buyer’s premium), more than double the high end of its presale estimate (£30,000–40,000). The photograph was a gift by Blumenfeld to his studio assistant. This particular print was created in 1949. “We are so thrilled Blumenfeld’s talent has been recognized by the market in the result we have achieved for this incredible work,” Proud added.

Peter Beard also had a particularly strong night. His 1972 portrait of Francis Bacon on his roof at 80 Narrow Street soared past its presale estimate of £7,000-9,000 to be snatched up for £30,000 ($50,871), the evening’s seventh highest result. Beard’s Buffalo Herd/Buffalo Control Diptych (1960–1962) came in just behind at £27,500 ($46,632) in side its presale estimate of £22,000–28,000.

Other top performers for whom the market appears ripe included Robert Mapplethorpe’s Thomas and Dovanna (1986) sold for £30,000 ($50,871) on an estimate of £12,000–18,000. Works by Helmut Newton outpaced expectations with Sie Kommen, The Beginning of ‘The Naked and Dressed’, Paris (1981) and Hand in Shoe, Paris (1991) selling for £10,625 and £10,625, respectively. Both sported estimates of £5,000–7,000.

However, most works sold—including 7 of those in the top 10—fell comfortably in the middle of their presale estimates. Two works by William Eggleston from 1970, Untitled (Near Minter City…) (est. £50,000–70,000) and Untitled (Greenwood, Mississippi) (est. £40,000–60,000) sold for £62,500 ($105,981) and £50,000 ($84,785), respectively. David LaChapelle’s C-print Amanda Lepore: Addicted to Diamonds (1997) sold for £12,500 ($21,085), right in the middle of its £10,000–15,000 estimate.

Desiree Dolron’s Xteriors I (2001) made £56,250 ($95,383), at the low end of its estimate of £50,000–70,000. A 1948 image Irving Penn shot for Vogue in Lima, Peru, sold for £40,000 ($67,828) on an estimate of £35,000–45,000. Vik Muniz’s Kyber Pass, Self-Portrait as an Oriental (2005); est. £25,000–35,000) went for £31,250 ($52,991). Nick Brandt rounded out the top 10 with Cheetah and Cubs Lying on Rock, Serengeti (2007), which sold for £25,000 ($42,392) smack-dab in the middle of its £20,000–30,000 estimate.

The results support recent reports such as the AXA Art Collector’s Survey, which suggested resurgent collector interest in photography at least in the volume of works sold. Proud told artnet News that trends point towards collectors demonstrating, “a strong attraction towards the juxtaposition of classic and contemporary works.” With values staying within estimated bounds, however, it is mainly a connoisseur’s rather than an investor’s market.