The Artnet Price Database Deep Dive: How the Market for Legendary Wildlife Photographer Peter Beard’s Work Has Matured

On the occasion of Artnet Auctions’ new sale "In Focus: Peter Beard," we’re looking back at what makes Beard’s oeuvre unique and how his auction market has fared.

Peter Beard, “But Past Who Can Recall Or Done Undo” Paradise Lost. Courtesy of Artnet Auctions.

The artist and philanthropist Peter Beard was a renegade spirit and the quintessential man-about-town, who, for decades, captured startling images of endangered African wildlife. After the recent news of the tragic loss of the artist, at the age of 82, a renewed interest in Beard’s work has emerged.

An almost legendary figure, Beard’s legacy is nearly certain to endure thanks to his arresting body of work documenting the African continent. On the occasion of Artnet Auctions’ new sale In Focus: Peter Beard — which features 25 works spanning several decades of his career — we’re looking back at what makes Beard’s oeuvre so singular and how his auction market has fared in recent years.

Peter Beard, Orphaned Cheetah Cubs, Mweiga, near Nyeri, Kenya, March 1968. Courtesy of Christie’s.

A Unique Vision

Though often described as a photographer, Beard was also a multimedia artist who took ink and paint to his prints. Full of his own musings, notes, and personal mementos—even sometimes wiped with his own blood—this approach lends a diaristic intimacy to Beard’s otherwise regal black-and-white animal photography. It’s clear from his auction results that this collaged aesthetic is the most prized from Beard’s oeuvre: his top auction results to date all feature animals shot in Africa and ringed with the artist’s handwriting, brushstrokes, and other ephemera. Orphaned Cheetah Cubs, Mweiga, near Nyeri, Kenya (2017), a gelatin silver print of a photo taken in 1968 but completed as an artwork decades later, is the highest price paid for Beard’s work on the secondary market, selling for $672,500 in October 2017 against a $300,000–500,000 estimate.

Peter Beard, Giraffes in Mirage on the Taru Desert (Kenya). Courtesy of Artnet Auctions.

Supply and Demand

Because of Beard’s involved, post-production artistic process, many of his pieces are unique works and thus make his market quite different from most photo-based artists. Though Beard did also work in editions—and created some fairly traditional wildlife photographic prints, especially early in his career—the market for Beard has really centered on his best-known collage series, including those featured in his most famous book, The End of the Game (1977). Inventory of available works by Beard in any given year has been somewhat volatile, with 108 being offered at auction in 2013 but just 52 in 2017, as there are only so many of these sought-after pieces to go around. Nevertheless, interest has remained steady, with 35–70% of lots offered and selling above-estimate each year.

Peter Beard, NYC From NBI Filming The Dead Man’s Wallet Book. Courtesy of Artnet Auctions.

A Legacy in the Making

With the tragic passing of Beard earlier this year, there’s been an outpouring of remembrances and tributes dedicated to his life, art, and activism. “His message is still very relevant today during global warming and climate change when wildlife is still very much imperiled,” says Susanna Wenniger, Head of Photographs at Artnet Auctions and the lead specialist of the current sale In Focus: Peter Beard. “His work mythologized the end of an era since there is no wilderness left quite like he lived it.” As the artist’s death marks a turning point in both the scholarship and the legacy of his work, time will tell how his market will be impacted. But with Price Database searches for Peter Beard on the rise, signs point to an inevitable climb in prices as the possibility of new work from the artist has sadly come to an end.

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