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Auction PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

Sotheby’s Fine Photographs Auction

On March 30th Sotheby’s will offer a fine selection of photographs ranging from one of the earliest images of New York City, to a modernist work by László Moholy-Nagy, to iconic images by photographic provocateur Robert Mapplethorpe. Also included will be images by many of the 20th century’s top photographers including Robert Frank, William Eggleston, Irving Penn, and many others.

One of Robert Mapplethorpe’s most famous flower studies, Calla Lily (est. $60/80,000), is indelibly associated with the photographer’s 1988 retrospective exhibition, The Perfect Moment, one of the era’s most controversial museum shows. Calla Lily was featured on the cover of the catalogue for the exhibition, which became a lightning rod for artistic freedom in the United States when images in the show were deemed obscene by conservative lawmakers led by Senator Jesse Helms. The controversy surrounding this traveling exhibition increased at each new venue and hit a peak when the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C., abruptly canceled its plans to show it. The Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati was raided by police when the exhibition opened there, and the Center and its director were charged with obscenity. The signature photograph of The Perfect Moment exhibition, Calla Lily has retained its position as a key image in the photographer’s oeuvre. It has been included in numerous museum exhibitions of Mapplethorpe’s work worldwide and is reproduced in all the major monographs on the photographer. It is believed that a print of this image has not come up for auction since 1993.

Another Mapplethorpe icon, The Coral Sea (est. $100/150,000), is one of the first of the photographer’s images to be rendered in platinum, and is one of only three prints of the image made in the process. In 1985, in an effort to get beyond the look and feel of conventional gelatin silver prints, Mapplethorpe began experimenting with alternative processes. By using the more tactile platinum process, Mapplethorpe hoped to transcend the medium – to make the image, as he said, ‘no longer a photograph first, [but] firstly a statement that happens to be a photograph.’ The Coral Sea, with its expansive gray sky, was the ideal image to be realized in the platinum medium, which is prized for its extremely wide range of gray tones. The Coral Sea served as the central motif for Patti Smith’s book-length prose poem of the same title, published in 1996, which was a dream-like elegy on the photographer’s life.

A half-plate daguerreotype of A Country Home Along ‘A Continuation of Broadway’ (est. $50/70,000), made in October 1848 or earlier, may be one of the earliest photographic views of New York City extant. This surprisingly detailed image of what is now Manhattan’s Upper West Side shows a stately home atop a hill with its vast lawn spread before it, newly planted with evergreens and surrounded by a crisply-rendered white picket fence. In the foreground, the daguerreotype shows what is almost certainly the old Bloomingdale Road, referred to as ‘a continuation of Broadway’ in the New York City directories of the day. The date and location of this image have been taken from a manuscript note which was folded and placed behind the daguerreotype plate in its original leather case. Early daguerreotypes showing parts of New York City are exceedingly rare. Of the handful that can be dated to the 1840s and 1850s, all but the image offered here show buildings in Lower Manhattan, and only one is believed to precede the present daguerreotype in date. This image provides a unique glimpse into a hitherto unknown Manhattan: the country estates beyond the grid of downtown streets, the busy traffic of Broadway just beginning.

Hungarian-born László Moholy-Nagy was one of Modernism’s most ardent proponents and a tireless experimenter, and the study of his wife, Lucia Moholy (est. $200/300,000), is perhaps his most famous portrait study. The photograph incorporates the best aspects of Moholy-Nagy’s innovative work with a camera; its spontaneity, underscored by the sitter’s tousled hair and candid expression; its complex interplay of lights and darks; its careful cropping. As a head-andshoulders portrait, it deviates beautifully from the norm. This image was illustrated in the definitive early anthology of Moholy’s photographs, 60 Fotos (Berlin, 1930), and was very likely included in the seminal Film und Foto exhibition in Stuttgart in 1929. It was one of approximately 50 Moholy images shown in the photographer’s important solo exhibition at Delphic Studios in New York City in 1939. The print offered by Sotheby’s comes originally from the collection of pioneering Russian film-maker Esfir Shub, who acquired it from the photographer in the late 1920s. The print’s large size suggests that it was intended for exhibition.

Sotheby’s will offer a suite of five Modernist nude studies by Edward Weston of his lover Sonya Noskowiak (est. $50/70,000). These photographs were given originally by Weston to Noskowiak, and they remained in her collection until her death. Weston began this series of experimental nudes in 1933 using his new Speed Graphic camera, which was smaller and more mobile than his customary 8-by-10-inch camera. Noskowiak, a talented photographer in her own right, was a powerful muse for Weston who was clearly intrigued by the aesthetic possibilities presented by her lithe and angular body. Weston varied his point of view from exposure to exposure, focusing on specific parts of Noskowiak’s body, especially sensitive to the angles created by her limbs in relation to the edges of the frame. The resulting images are direct, resolutely unromantic, and austere in their depiction of their subject; they are among the most purely Modernist nudes Weston had produced up to that time.

William Eggleston and Robert Frank are each currently the subjects of retrospective exhibitions, at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the National Museum of Art respectively. Both photographers are represented by key images in Sotheby’s sale. Robert Frank’s New Orleans (Trolley) (est. $80/120,000) is among the most famous images from Frank’s epochal and highly influential book The Americans, for which this image was the cover illustration. Other images from The Americans are U. S. 30 Between Ogallala and North Platte, Nebraska (est. $25/35,000), and Detroit (Rodeo) (est. $15/25,000). A rare early print of Frank’s London (est. $25/35,000) shows a bowler-hatted banker striding through a foggy park, while another early London image (est. $20/30,000) depicts a chauffer amidst a sea of black limousines. London (Hearse) (est. $80/120,000) is one of Frank’s most famous pre-Americans photographs and is present in this auction in a rare large format print. Eggleston’s sun-drenched dye-transfer print of Untitled (Peaches! Near Greenville, Mississippi) (est. $50/70,000) is one of the photographer’s most celebrated images of the American South. Three other Eggleston dye-transfers are Memphis (Woman and Children in Car) (est. $20/30,000), Como, Mississippi (est. $15/25,000) and Memphis (Woman Standing by Brick Wall) (est. $10/15,000).

The auction also includes work by Ansel Adams whose Portfolio Three: Yosemite Valley (est. $50/70,000) and Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras (est. $60/90,000) demonstrate the photographer’s affinity for the drama of the American landscape, as does his print of Grand Tetons and the Snake River (est. $50/70,000). An early and little seen view of a Ford Trimotor Plane (est. $20/30,000) by Brett Weston, and his father Edward Weston’s Boats, San Francisco (est. $20/30,000), are other West Coast offerings. Alfred Stieglitz’s precisely-composed Apples and Gable, Lake George (est. $30/50,000) is a fine example of the photographer’s work at his family’s home in Lake George, and was originally in the collection of photographer Dorothy Norman.

Three bravura platinum prints by Irving Penn are Woman in a Moroccan Palace (est. $200/300,000), New York Still Life (est. $50/70,000), and Picasso (B), Cannes (est. $60/90,000). The subject of the first of these photographs is the photographer’s wife, the incomparably elegant Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn, regarded by many as the first supermodel. The photograph was originally taken on assignment for Vogue and appeared in the January 1952 issue as part of a travel pieced entitled ‘Moroccan Handbook.’ In the 1970s, Penn became fascinated by the platinum printing process and worked to perfect the notoriously difficult technique. The Penn platinum prints offered here show the photographer’s complete mastery of the medium.