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Top Ten Works from Photographs Sale at Phillps de Pury & Company

Last Photographs auction at Phillips de Pury & Company New York on October 8th totaled $3,987,800 (including premium) selling 78% by value, with many of the sale’s top lots surpassing their pre-sale estimates.


1. Lot# 22. IRVING PENN

__ Pablo Picasso at La Californie, Cannes, 1957

__Platinum-palladium print, printed 1978 ; 19 5/8 x 19 1/2 in.

__Edition: 25/45 ; Signed.

__ESTIMATE $80,000-120,000__ SOLD AT $182,500


Emphasizing clarity, illumination, and linearity, Irving Penn’s vision captures the essence of his subject matter. The close-up portrait is skillfully and almost perfectly centered by Picasso’s cyclopean eye, paying homage to the Cubist style that he was instrumental in popularizing. References to the style, in fact, abound in the photograph: the strong tonal contrasts, the cape slicing the face at an unconventional angle, the abstraction of the ear, the different lines dissecting the plain; the portrait is far more akin to Picasso’s gris-toned Buste de Femme, 1956, than any of Penn’s other portraits. Ultimately, Pablo Picasso at La Californie, Cannes, is a carefully nuanced souvenir commemorating the legacy of not one, but two great masters, both delicately revealing themselves through different sides of the same lens.



__Brigitte Bardot, Hair by Alexandre, Paris Studio, 1959

__Gelatin silver print, printed 1959 ; 23 1/4 x 20 in.

__Edition: one from an edition of 35 ; Signed.

__ESTIMATE $100,000-150,000 __SOLD AT $170,500


The magic in Richard Avedon’s body of work, especially his portraits, lies in his ability to detect and extract with a surgeon’s precision the core of his sitters’ being. The portraits, therefore, are far more than a static outline of physical likeness. Rather, they are akin to an expressive brushstroke or a stardust trail that bears the unequivocal genetic code of the sitter without necessarily bearing a heavy-handed depiction of a familiar—or worse, clichéd—portrayal. Essence, therefore, takes precedence over matter, and spirit trumps resemblance. Brigitte Bardot, Hair by Alexandre, Paris Studio, was shot in 1959, only a few years after the French siren burst into the forefront of American socio-sexual consciousness following her star turn in the film And God Created Women. The brilliance of the image could be attributed to its effortless simplicity, or rather, its illusion thereof. Avedon avoided the easy baits in portraying Bardot—bodacious curves, exposed back, exotic settings—in favor of merely focusing on her face. The cropping of all superfluous elements extended to the strong lighting, which dramatically reduced Bardot’s facial features to their most basic—a seductive gaze and a cushy pout—revealing not only Bardot’s sexual confidence but also Avedon’s coincedence in capturing Bardot’s sensuality. To further heighten the drama and provide an additional shock of sex appeal, Avedon double-exposed Bardot’s famous mane to create the appearance of sudden movement, framing the delicate facial features in a cascade of swaying, rippling waves. This allowed Avedon to cleverly jolt viewers out of their comfort viewing zone and shamelessly command a closer look, and consequently, awe.


3. Lot# 47. ROBERT FRANK

__Trolley- New Orleans, 1956

__Gelatin silver print, mounted, printed 1970s ; 12 1/8 x 18 3/4 in ; Signed

__ESTIMATE $100,000-150,000

__SOLD AT $158,500


After arriving shortly in New Orleans, Robert Frank, fascinated by the vivacious hustle-and-bustle of the city, observed an ongoing parade. Compelled by nothing but whim, Frank suddenly turned his back on the staged spectacle only to behold and capture the image of a trolley slicing through the French Quarter and inadvertently exposing the hierarchical cross-section of American racial demographic. The grid proffered by the trolley’s structure neatly if eerily delineated the segregation enforcement of the era, with five windows showcasing the breakdown in race, gender and age group: white male, white female, white children, African-American male, African-American female. With the exception of the latter, all appear to make direct eye-contact with photographer, and consequently, with the viewers, mustering an accordingly wide array of reactions, from stern confrontation to melancholic pleading. Trolley—New Orleans is far more than a portrait of New Orleans or even the Deep South for that matter, but one of an era typified by paranoia and calamitous inequality. The poignancy of the image is intensified by its chronological juncture with the Montgomery Bus Boycott less than a month later and the subsequent sparking of the Civil Rights Movement. For Frank to have captured the racial breakdown so delicately and simply, moments before the structure that held it together collapsed, attests to the balance of foresight and insight, in seeing and envisioning, that Frank so dutifully employed.


4. Lot# 55. IRVING PENN

__Chef, New York, 1951

__Platinum-palladium print, printed 1967 ; 16 5/8 x 13 1/4 in.

__Edition: 6/6 ; Signed.

__ESTIMATE $30,000-40,000

__SOLD AT $134,500




__Life’s Balance (With Brushes), 1996

__Two color coupler prints, flush-mounted to board.

__36 x 15 in; (i) 14 x 15 in. (ii) 22 x 15 in.

__ESTIMATE $30,000-50,000

__SOLD AT $97,300



6. Lot# 318.  RICHARD AVEDON

__Nastassja Kinski and the Serpent, 14 June, 1981

__Gelatin silver print ; 32 1/8 x 48 3/4 in ;  Edition: 80/200 ; Signed.

__ESTIMATE $40,000-60,000 __SOLD AT $92,500



7. Lot# 375. THOMAS STRUTH

__Paradise 23, São Francisco de Xavier, Brasil, 2001

__Color coupler print, Diasec mounted ; 87 x 68 in. ; Edition: 9/10 ; Signed

__ESTIMATE $60,000-80,000

__SOLD AT $86,500




__Marella Agnelli, New York Studio, December, 1953

__Gelatin silver print, printed 1981 ;  23 1/4 x 18 1/2 in.

__Editions: one from an edition of 50 ; Signed.

__ESTIMATE $40,000-60,000__ SOLD AT $80,500



__Calla Lily, 1986

__Gelatin silver print ; 19 1/8 x 19 1/4 in ; Edition: 8/10 ; Signed.

__ESTIMATE $60,000-80,000 __SOLD AT $74,500



__Fête du Pourim, 1991

__Mixed media installation comprised of five gelatin silver prints, three lamps and tin box __with clothes ;  61 x 34 1/4 in.

__ESTIMATE $60,000-80,000 __SOLD AT $68,500



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