On Thursday, Sotheby’s set several artist records during an online auction devoted to major figures in photography. The sale, organized by auctioneers in New York and London, brought in a total of $4.38 million with buyer’s fees across 30 lots sold, realizing a 60 percent sell-through rate.
The top lot was a photographic album created by 19th-century British photographer William Henry Fox Talbot. Gifted by the photographer to his sister, Henrietta Horatia Maria Gaisford (née Feilding) in the 1840s, and passed by descent through the family, the collection is comprised of photographs and personal albums depicting scenes of Victorian Britain.
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Six bidders competed for a trove of around 200 early photographs, moving the hammer price up to $1.6 million, with a final price of $2 million, four times its low estimate of $300,000. The winning bidder was dealer Hans R. Kraus Jr. The result set a new auction record for the artist, surpassing his previous benchmark of $275,000 paid for The Pencil of Nature (ca. 1846) in April 2018 at Sotheby’s.
In a statement, Sotheby’s described the Talbot photographs as “arguably the most important lot of 19th-century photographs to ever come to market.” Making its auction debut at Sotheby’s, the collection also set a record for work of 19th-century photography at auction. The previous record was held by French photographer Gustave Le Gray’s Bateaux quittent le port du Havre (1856–57) sold at the Rouillac auction house in June 2011 for $1.3 million.
The sale also realized two other artist records. Created while she lived and worked with Man Ray at his Paris studio in the early 1930s, Lee Miller’s Nude, a Surrealism-inspired view of a woman’s naked back, was sold for $504,000, doubling its pre-sale estimate of $200,000. The seller, the Palm Springs–based former art dealer Marilyn Pearl Loesberg, purchased it in 1998 at Christie’s for $90,500. The sale surpassed Miller’s previous record price of $377,000, paid for the photographer’s 1931 work Untitled (Iron work) at Sotheby’s in 2014.
The record for Miller comes as awareness for her work grows. The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, will stage an exhibition devoted to her images of Surrealist artists in May.
Another female photojournalist saw a new benchmark in the sale as well. Rhesus Monkey, a photograph by German photographer and Life magazine staffer Hansel Mieth, sold for $12,600. Her previous record was noted by the Swann Galleries sale of an edition of the same picture for $7,500 in 2008.
Elsewhere in the Sotheby’s sale, buyers contended for work by more famous photographers. Irving Penn’s black-and-white fashion photograph Harlequin Dress (1950) sold for $252,000, and Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Still #37 (1979) went for $252,000. Both had low estimates of $200,000. Triangles (1928), Imogen Cunningham’s cropped portrait of a woman’s nude torso, sold for $189,000, against an estimate of $150,000, to a buyer in New York. Richard Misrach’s banner-sized image of the ocean’s horizon, #114-03 (2003), sold for $81,900 to a collector in Geneva, and Edward Weston’s Cabbage-leaf (1931) went to a bidder in Germany for a final price of $75,600.