Published: April 26, 2022
Review by Z.G. Burnett, Photos Courtesy Swann
NEW YORK CITY – Swann Auction Galleries’ Fine Photographs sale on April 14 represented top names in the medium with a showcase of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century photography. Early images of post-Colonial America, India, China and Japan were listed alongside landscapes both urban and natural. Portraiture and object studies were also offered. Single print lots were available in addition to many album, portfolio and book lots. The sale brought $768,846 overall.
Two silver prints by Ansel Adams (1902-1984) were in the top five selling lots, each showcasing the majesty of Yosemite National Park, California. The sale’s top lot was titled, “Monolith, the Face of the Half Dome,” which Adams photographed in 1926. This print was made between 1973 and 1977, and sold over estimate for $37,500 ($20/30,000). Another Adams to cross the block showed “El Capitan, Winter, Sunrise,” and realized $15,000 against its $7/10,000 estimate.
The auction’s headliner was the first portfolio of The North American Indian by Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952), known for his documentary and portrait photography of many Native American nations, particularly those of the Plains and Pacific Northwest. This portfolio is numbered 67 out of 500 copies and retains all 79 of its sepia-toned photogravure plates. It achieved $32,500, exceeding its $15/25,000 estimate.
The third highest selling lot was a shift in both mood and content to “Hands, Hands,” by Horst P. Horst (1906-1999). This image is distinctive because of the alternating hands’ different skin tones, an interracial detail perhaps not immediately striking to a Twenty-First Century viewer but unusual in 1941 when the original photograph was taken. Signed by the artist and reprinted in the 1980s, it sold for $21,000. Another Horst was among the top lots, “Carmen Face Massage, New York,” which eased out $12,500.
Other top lots were Roy DeCarava’s “Graduation” and Berenice Abbott’s “Gasoline Station, Tremont Avenue and Dock Street, Bronx.” Both are snapshots of changing urban landscapes, captured just over a decade apart, and each sold for $15,000. DeCarava (1919-2009) was the first Black artist to receive a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and the lot included a signed, deluxe first edition collection of his photographs. Abbott (1898-1991) returned to New York from her early studies in Paris and chronicled these rapid transformations in her traveling exhibition “Changing New York.”
“American Gothic, Washington DC” by Gordon Parks (1912-2006) also outperformed its $4/6,000 estimate, achieving $10,625. This arresting image is a portrait of Ella Watson, a woman who cleaned in Parks’ office despite her formal stenography training. Although Parks was able to secure a photographer position at the Farm Security Administration, both he and Watson were suppressed by the prevalent segregationist policies in the nation’s capital. Watson’s frustration with her inability to gain employment in her field and Parks’ disillusionment with his own professional barriers are palpable in the image. This image was buried by Parks’ employer and only gained recognition in the 1960s. It’s interesting to note that the portrait and Horst’s “Hands, Hands” were captured only one year apart.
Aside from social realism, there was truly something for everyone at the fine photography sale. The peaceful still life “Shaker Interior, Sabbathday Lake, Maine” by George Tice (b 1938) performed at five times its estimate, selling for $5,250. A double self-portrait by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1854-1901) also doubled its estimate, and the playful image went home for $5,750.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. For additional information, 212-254-4710 or www.swanngalleries.com.
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