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Fine Selection of Photographic Images Announced at Sotheby's
Manuel-Álvarez Bravo, Los Agachados. Est. $50,000-70,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s 6 October 2010 auction of Photographs presents a fine selection of photographic images dating from the medium’s earliest years to those by some of best photographers of the 20th century and the present day. Overall the sale is expected to fetch between $4.3 and 6.5 million. The catalogue cover image, Edward Steichen’s Wind Fire, Thérèse Duncan, Acropolis (est. $120,000-180,000, above) is one of very few extant prints of this iconic image. This lush and warm-toned palladium print is the earliest-known published print of the image, appearing in Vanity Fair in June 1923, and it conveys an elegant exuberance. Steichen took this photograph while vacationing in Greece with modern dance pioneer Isadora Duncan and her troupe. The photographer made dramatic images of Duncan striking classical poses amidst the Parthenon, but in Thérèse Duncan, an adopted daughter of Isadora, Steichen found his ideal subject. Steichen followed the lively and vivacious young woman as she danced around the Acropolis, photographing her in motion. Wind Fire is the definitive image from this series, and is one of the only images within Steichen’s vast and diverse oeuvre in which movement—in the graceful curve of Thérèse’s body, and in her wind-whipped garments and hair—plays such a crucial and compelling role.

Foremost among Sotheby’s extensive offerings of fine 19th-century photographs is a whole-plate daguerreotype by Rufus Anson of the two principle characters in the 19th-century melodrama Robert Macaire (est. $250,000-350,000): the titular arch-villain and his hapless foil, Strop. In its portrayal of two costumed actors, fully in-character, it is an image that crackles with dramatic energy. Robert Macaire was an immensely popular play and was performed throughout the world. The character of Macaire, the unrepentant scoundrel, modernized the stock villain in a way that was irresistible to the audiences of the day. Anson, who worked in New York City on Broadway, has captured in this unique image an unparalleled record of the substance and spirit of American theatre of the mid-19th century. This daguerreotype was for years owned by legendary photographs collector André Jammes, and is now being sold from a private collection.

Leading off the sale is a group of 17 portfolios from Edward Curtis’s magnum opus, The North American Indian (ests. ranging from $5,000-7,000 to $30,000-50,000). Published between 1907 and 1930, The North American Indian comprises a vast pictorial document of Native American cultures prior to assimilation. The 570 masterfully-rendered large-format photogravures on offer are printed on either vellum or tissue and include some of Curtis’s most iconic and elegiac images. These portfolios are duplicates from the collection of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, which recently acquired the complete set of The North American Indian, and are being sold to benefit acquisition funds. Photographic Modernism figures prominently in the October sale, which includes Edward Weston’s iconic 1936 Dunes, Oceano (est. $70,000-100,000). This quintessential Dunes study comes originally from the collection of Illinois industrialist and amateur photographer Walter Colman, who befriended Weston in the 1940s. In addition to the technical and aesthetic advice he got from the photographer, Colman also acquired the Dunes image from Weston, as well as two other landscape views: Death Valley (Dante’s View) (est. $10,000-18,000) and Point Lobos (Surf, China Cove) (est. $8,000-12,000).

Tina Modotti learned the craft of photography from her lover and mentor Edward Weston during their time together in Mexico City in the 1920s. Modotti grasped the basics of the medium immediately and went on to create one of the richest bodies of photographic work of any photographer in the 20th century. Sugar Cane (est. $50,000-70,000) possesses both a formally rigorous composition and references to Mexican culture. Sugar Cane was reproduced in the Russian journal International Literature in 1935, and the print offered here is one of only three extant prints of the image.

Modotti was, in turn, an influence on the work of Mexican photographer Manuel-Álvarez Bravo, whose early 1930s photograph Los Agachados (est. $50,000-70,000) offered here is believed to be one of only two early prints of this image ever to be offered at auction. Los Agachados shows a typical Mexican scene: a group of men seated at a storefront restaurant. Through Bravo’s skillful use of light, the heads of the men at the counter are obscured but the chains linking the restaurant’s metal stools are clearly delineated. It is this elusive, sometimes dreamlike, sometimes menacing, quality of Bravo’s images that made him so appealing to the Surrealists. This early print is personally inscribed by Bravo to his friend and colleague Gabriel Figueroa, Mexico’s most accomplished cinematographer, who worked with directors Luis Buñuel, John Huston, John Ford, and many others.

In Still Life Composition with Chess Set, Plaster Casts, and ‘A L’Heure de l’Observatoire—Les Amoureux’ (est. $50,000-70,000), Man Ray transforms a photograph of a corner of his Paris studio into a surreal and obliquely personal document. Dominating this complexly layered image is his famous painting of the lips of his ex-lover Lee Miller floating against the sky. Beneath the painting is a chess set of Man Ray’s own design -- a reference to his chess-obsessed mentor, friend, and collaborator Marcel Duchamp -- and two prone plaster casts frequently (and sometimes erotically) employed in other photographs by Man Ray. This photograph comes originally from the collection of Man Ray’s widow, Juliet Man Ray.

The October auction continues Sotheby’s tradition of offering truly great 19th-century photographic work and includes a number of impressive examples of early American photography, such as the aesthetically sophisticated whole-plate daguerreotype of Two Couples in a Verdant Setting (est. $50,000-80,000). Outdoor daguerreotypes are rare, and it is still rarer to find a large-format outdoor scene rendered in the vertical format. In this image the unknown photographer has fully exploited the verticality of the frame to emphasize the arching vault of trees overhanging the two couples. Made scarcely ten years after photography’s invention, this daguerreotype is wholly modern in its vision and execution. Among a strong selection of daguerreotypes is the skillfully hand -colored half-plate of Three Girls (est. $20,000-30,000), in which the central subject casts her fervent gaze heavenward. Beautiful and haunting, this daguerreotype has more in common with the work of Julia Margaret Cameron and F. Holland Day than other work of the daguerreian era. Also of note is the quarter-plate daguerreotype of Revolutionary War Veteran Baltus Stone (est. $10,000-20,000) who was over 100 years of age when this portrait was made in Philadelphia. Stone saw action in the Battles of Long Island, Brandywine, and Germantown. Born in 1744, he is one of the earliest-born people to have been photographed.

Other 19th-century photographs include two impressive mammoth albumen prints by Carleton Watkins of Yosemite: Sentinal – View up the Valley (est. $30,000-50,000) and Sentinel – View Down the Valley (est. $30,000-50,000), both from 1861. Andrew Joseph Russell’s East Meets West, Shaking Hands at the Laying of the Last Rail, Promontory Point, Utah (est. $25,000-35,000) documents the moment in May 1869 when the first transcontinental railroad was completed, and is one of only three known early prints of the image extant.

The auction is especially rich in post-World War II work by Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, and Garry Winogrand. The Frank offerings include three important images made in the 1950s when the photographer travelled across America taking images that would later be compiled in his seminal book, The Americans. US 285, New Mexico (est. $60,000-80,000) is an emblem of the open road, showing a seemingly infinite highway receding into the distance.

McClellanville, S. C. (Barbershop) (est. $60,000-80,000), one of the central images in The Americans, represents a rare instance from this period in which Frank himself, as a reflection, appears within the frame. US 90, En Route to Del Rio, Texas (est. $80,000-120,000) evokes Frank’s life on the road, showing his wife and young son in Frank’s car pulled to the side of the highway. Also included are a number of the photographer’s earlier, more atmospheric, European works, including an early print of Paris (Man and Cart) (est. $30,000-50,000).

Also on offer are a rare lifetime print of Diane Arbus’s iconic 1963 Xmas Tree in a Living Room in Levittown, L.I. (est. $100,000-150,000), and Garry Wingrand’s monumental 85-photograph portfolio Women Are Beautiful (est. $60,000-90,000). An early print of Robert Adams’s classic depiction of suburban isolation, Colorado Springs (est. $15,000-25,000), and Robert Rauschenberg’s unique bleached large-format Polaroid print New York (est. $30,000-50,000) are also featured.

Two works by Irving Penn illustrate his mastery of two very different photographic techniques. His Cigarette No. 9 (in Four Parts) (est. $100,000-150,000, right) is comprised of four platinum prints. Massive in format, this composite image is one of only seven such versions of the image made by Penn. In his Frozen Food (With String Beans) (est. $70,000-100,000) Penn uses the dye-transfer process to great effect in rendering the colors of his subjects. Another master of color photography is William Eggleston, whose Graceland portfolio (est. $80,000-120,000) consists of 11 dyetransfer prints of Elvis Presley’s legendary Memphis home.

For collectors interested in photographic literature, Sotheby’s offers an exceedingly rare complete set of the seminal Dada publication 291 (est. $30,000-50,000). Published by Alfred Stieglitz in 1915 and 1916, this large folio journal reproduced the graphic work of Francis Picabia, John Marin, Maurice de Zayas, and Edward Steichen, as well as the large-format photogravure of Stieglitz’s The Steerage. Also of interest to bibliophiles is a preliminary partial maquette for the book Henri Cartier-Bresson: Photographe (est. $30,000-50,000), containing 16 original photographs of some of Cartier-Bresson’s most famous images. This comes from the collection of photographer and publisher Paul Ickovic, whom Cartier-Bresson describes in an appreciative personal inscription as ‘the Godfather’ of the book.

Two important and massive multi-media works by Peter Beard will be featured in the auction. Lion’s Pride, Southern Serengeti (est. $100,000-150,000) combines one of Beard’s photographs of lions with his own drawings and inscriptions, as well as those of the African artists Mathenge Kivoi and E. Mwangi Kuria. In Diary Page Diptych: October 14 (Ele. Embryo, MP 1) /March (Bacon and E. Taylor, MP 2) (est. $70,000-100,000), which was exhibited at the artist’s 1996 Carnets Africains exhibition in Paris, Beard adventurously collages a multitude of printed and three-dimensional objects around large-scale reproductions of his diary pages.

Other contemporary offerings include Robert Mapplethorpe’s large-format Calla Lilly (est. $60,000-80,000, left), as well as two early works in frames and silk mats designed by Mapplethorpe himself: Carnations (est. $30,000-50,000), exhibited in his groundbreaking exhibition The Perfect Moment, and Amanda Lear (est. $15,000-20,000). Large-scale color work by Candida Hofer, Robert Polidori, Erwin Olaf, Joann Verburg, Elger Esser, and Lewis Baltz will also be featured.

Sotheby's | Auction of Photographs | Edward Steichen |

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