Works by Irving Penn on Offer at Christie’s New York Auction

Christie’s New York has been entrusted with the sale of “Three Decades with Irving Penn: Photographs from the Collection of Patricia McCabe”, the most significant group of photographs by Irving Penn (1917-2009) ever to come to auction. The sale will take place on the evening of April 14, 2010 at Christie’s New York and will be preceded by public exhibitions in its Galleries at Rockefeller Center February 22-March 12, and April 10-13.


Irving Penn, “Hell’s Angels”, San Francisco, 1967. Estimate: $18,000-22,000. ©The Irving Penn Foundation

The 67 photographs in the Collection were gifts from Irving Penn to Patricia McCabe, his trusted personal assistant for over thirty years. The images span the breadth of Penn’s long and illustrious career and include such masterpieces as “Cuzco Children”, 1948, (estimate: $100,000-150,000), “Street Photographer, New York”, 1950 (estimate: $25,000-35,000), “Poppy: Glowing Embers New York”, 1968 (estimate: $70,000-90,000), and “Two Guedras, Morocco”, 1971 (estimate: $40,000-60,000). Not only is the collection remarkable for its size, it displays an extraordinary cross-section of Penn’s artistic production.

Hailed as one of the most influential and prolific photographers of all time, Irving Penn rose to prominence in the 1950s with his elegant fashion photography and went on to establish a signature style that he developed by pursuing his own projects often while traveling on assignment for Vogue magazine. Penn’s versatile and ever-more inventive treatment of his subject matter made him one of the most important American photographers of the 20th century. Whether the subject was fashion, portraiture, small trades, ethnic groups or still life, Penn produced works of incomparable sophistication.

Initially employed in a short-term temporary capacity, Patricia McCabe immediately developed a bond with the reserved photographer and then spent over three decades working for Penn as his administrative assistant. During their extended professional life together, Penn gave Ms. McCabe 67 photographs, principally platinum prints, all inscribed affectionately to her. Ms. McCabe clearly possessed a wonderful eye and a decided preference for certain types of imagery within Penn’s body of work. The Collection includes a number of superbly composed and abstracted still lifes, several of the powerful and sensual tribal images, a number of the ‘street materials’ and ‘cigarette’ photographs, as well as his most stunningly beautiful, intensely colored flowers and wittily posed portraits. Numerous works on offer have either never appeared at auction or in recent auction history – Penn’s self portrait distortion, “In a Cracked Mirror”, 1986 (estimate: $25,000-35,000), “Train Sandwich Vendor”, 1950 (estimate: $25,000-35,000), “Playing Card, New York”, 1975 (estimate: $20,000-30,000), and “Two in a Canoe”, 1951 (estimate: $25,000-35,000) are a few important examples.

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