Christie’s Withdraws Portrait Gifted By Richard Avedon After Foundation Complains

The Foundation says the work was a gift to Nureyev and not intended for resale.

Richard Avedon, Self-portrait, Provo, Utah, August 20, 1980; © 2009 The Richard Avedon Foundation
Richard Avedon, Self-portrait, Provo, Utah, August 20, 1980; © 2009 The Richard Avedon Foundation

Richard Avedon, Self-portrait, Provo, Utah, August 20, 1980.
Image: © 2009 The Richard Avedon Foundation
This image is a portrait of the photographer and not the image in dispute.

A Richard Avedon photograph has reportedly been withdrawn from an auction at Christie’s over complaints by the Avedon Foundation.

The photo, a 1962 portrait of ballet icon Rudolf Nureyev, belongs to ballet dancer Eric Walters, who says he bought it at Christie’s in 1995 for just $1,610, according to the New York Post. But when Walters tried to sell the photo this year at the same auction house with a high estimate of $15,000, the Avedon Foundation, which is based in New York, stepped in.

According to emails quoted by Page Six, a Christie’s vice president told Walters that the portrait was “a gift to Nureyev and therefore was never intended for resale . . . The concern in this instance is not that the work is not by Avedon, but rather that it was a gift.”

The Post‘s report does not include any indication whether there was a contract between Avedon and Nureyev that forbade future sale of the photo. A representative of Christie’s told the Post that the auction house “reserves the right to decline any consignment or withdraw items from sale as it sees fit.”

“In 1995, when you bought the picture from Nureyev’s estate sale,” the rep wrote to Walters, “the studio of the artist did not question its inclusion in the auction… the foundation is now extremely influential on what can and cannot be sold… without their blessing.”

The vice president added, “Please do not think me unsympathetic to your position.”

Neither Christie’s nor the Avedon Foundation immediately responded to requests for comment. Walters told the Post that a lawyer is investigating the matter on his behalf.

The foundation has previously been in a drawn-out legal battle with AXA Art Insurance over the valuation of an Avedon portrait of the Chicago Seven. An exhibition of Avedon’s photographs recently appeared in Philadelphia.

According to the artnet Price Database, Avedon’s current auction record is $1.2 million, set in November 2010 at Christie’s Paris by a 1955 photo of the model Dorothy Virginia Margaret Juba, known as Dovima, posing with elephants in a Dior evening dress. A 1961 nude portrait of Nureyev by the photographer fetched $72,000 at Christie’s New York in April 2007.

Avedon, who died in 2004, is known primarily for black-and-white fashion and portrait photography; his subjects ranged from Marilyn Monroe to Dwight D. Eisenhower. He was the first staff photographer hired by The New Yorker magazine, and also shot journalistic photos. He inspired the character of the fashion photographer portrayed by Fred Astaire in the film Funny Face (1957).

(artnet’s Price Database includes no information on any Avedon portrait of the dancer sold in 1995 at Christie’s. The auction house didn’t immediately follow up on a request for confirmation of the sale.)

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