Sotheby’s Sets New World Record for Photography Auction

The market for classic female photographers has the wind in its sails.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, On The Banks Of The Marne, France (Juvisy) (1936–37).
Photo: Courtesy Sotheby's.


Edward Weston, Charis, Santa Monica, 1936 Courtesy Sotheby's

Edward Weston, Charis, Santa Monica, 1936
Courtesy Sotheby’s

The single-owner sale “175 Masterworks To Celebrate 175 Years of Photography: Property from Joy of Giving Something Foundation” held at Sotheby’s New York on December 11 and 12, broke the world record for a photography auction. It was drawn from a collection gathered by the late American financier Howard Stein, who started Joy of Giving Something, Inc. in 1999.

The auction grossed $21,325,063, beating its presale estimate of $13–20 million, and greatly surpassing the previous record, set in 2006 by a Sotheby’s sale of photographs from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which made a total $15 million. Last week’s sale boasted a solid sell-through rate of 90.3 percent by lot and 94.9 percent by value.

“175 Masterworks” also set a slew of artist’s records. The top lot, an impressionistic view of Venice by Alvin Langdon Coburn (Shadows and Reflections, Venice, 1905) fetched a staggering $965,000, nearly doubling its high presale estimate of $500,000. Another notable record was for August Sander, whose Handlanger sold for $749,000 (presale estimate: $350,000-500,000). According to the artnet Price Database, Sander’s previous record was set in 2008, also at Sotheby’s New York, with the sale of Werkstudenten for $493,000.

Female photographers fared particularly well. Tina Modotti’s Workers’ Parade (1927) hammered at $485,000, well above its $300,000 high estimate, which set a new record for the artist. Julia Margaret Cameron’s No. 5 of series of twelve lifesized heads (Kate Keown) sold for $461,000, almost doubling the artist’s previous record, established last year with The Val Prinsep Album, a piece which gathered 32 photographs. Lee Miller’s Untitled (Iron work) (1931) fetched $377,000, also a new record. The sale marks a significant jump for Miller, whose previous record was set in 2012 with Condom, which sold for $230,500 at Sotheby’s New York.

“The market for classic photographs has never been stronger,” commented Christopher Mahoney, Head of Sotheby’s Photographs Department. “With eight prices over $500,000 and numerous records set, the auction demonstrated the enormous appetite among a broad base of collectors for top-tier photographs from the 19th and early-20th centuries.”

The proceeds of the sale will be used towards the Joy of Giving Something’s educational projects.

(For more photography sales coverage, see “$6.5 Million Landscape Is World’s Most Expensive Photo” and “Is That $6.5 Million Photo Sale for Real? Probably Not!“)

Henri Cartier-Bresson, On The Banks Of The Marne, France (Juvisy) (1936–37).Photo: Courtesy Sotheby's.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, On The Banks Of The Marne, France (Juvisy) (1936–37).
Photo: Courtesy Sotheby’s.

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