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A selection of iconic 20th century images to be featured in Phillips' Spring Photographs Auction
Robert Capa, Death of a Loyalist Soldier, 1936. Estimate: $80,000-120,000. Image courtesy Phillips.

NEW YORK, NY.- Phillips announced that its first New York Photographs auction of the year will feature The Enduring Image: Photographs from the Dr. Saul Unter Collection. This impressive private collection of 29 works will be offered in the Photographs sale on 9 April at 450 Park Avenue. Spanning the 20th century, the group includes works by Edward Steichen, Rudolf Koppitz, Man Ray, Robert Capa, and Alfred Eisenstaedt, among other masters of the photographic medium.

Rachel Peart, Photographs Specialist, said, “Dr. Unter’s collection brings together a remarkable group of works from over six decades, which encompass the range of the human spirit. His discerning eye in acquiring photographs with the connecting thread of humanist influence has led to the formation of a truly impressive and cohesive collection, underscoring his personal belief that the act of photographing is an expression of the human will to endure.”

Leading the collection is Edward Steichen’s iconic image of Gloria Swanson, one of the most celebrated portraits of the 20th Century. Few photographers have had as long, rich, and as varied a career as Edward Steichen, characterized throughout by an extraordinary intensity of vision and a devotion to the ever-changing craft of photography. Portraits were a constant throughout his career and his remarkable talent for photographing people is most apparent in the work he executed for Condé Nast beginning in the early 1920s, of which Gloria Swanson is a prime example. This photograph was the result of a 1924 sitting for Vogue magazine and was later published by Vanity Fair in 1928 to coincide with the release of the film Sadie Thompson, starring and produced by Swanson. She received an Academy Award nomination for the role, and Steichen’s portrait became the definitive image of the star. Early prints of this image appear infrequently on the market and in the past 25 years, only five other early prints have appeared at auction.

Rudolf Koppitz’s masterpiece, Bewegungsstudie (Movement Study), will also be offered from Dr. Unter’s collection. This print is remarkable for its large size, masterful print quality, extensive exhibition history, and direct provenance. More than other prints of this image, the example offered here delivers a remarkable range of detail and tonal subtlety. The faces of the dancers are rendered with great clarity, as are their delicately arched feet, which are frequently obscured in other prints. The dancers’ black robes, which at first seem absolutely black, show detail in their folds upon prolonged examination, giving them a sense of three-dimensionality and movement. As evidenced by the array of printed labels affixed to the reverse of the print, it has been featured in nine exhibitions in Europe and America between 1928 and 1932, a testament to Koppitz’s ambition in widely publicizing his work. Koppitz later gave this print to his assistant Alfred Ernst, an accomplished photographer in his own right. Stylized, graceful, and mysterious, Bewegungsstudie has remained Koppitz’s best known work. This masterful, large-format multiple-gum print represents the ideal presentation of this timeless image and it is clear that Koppitz regarded this print highly and that it met his own exacting standards.

Also hailing from the collection of Dr. Saul Unter is Robert Capa’s Death of a Loyalist Soldier, the photographer’s most famous image, which brought a new immediacy to photojournalism. In September 1936, Capa was photographing the Spanish Civil War while on assignment for Vu magazine. This work, which captures the last second of a soldier’s life with graphic intensity, is both shocking and riveting, and conveys the visceral experience of combat. The image reached a much larger audience when it was published in LIFE magazine a year later as the lead image in a six-page spread, featuring text devoted to the war, with contributions by Ernest Hemingway, addressing the seriousness of the conflict. Its appearance there not only propelled Capa into the top ranks of photojournalism, it also signaled a shift in American opinion about the conflict. Death of a Loyalist Soldier caused a sensation upon its appearance, and has remained one of the most unforgettable images within our visual culture.

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