Auctions | June 6, 2013

Strong Prices for Classic Photographs and Early Albums at Swann Galleries


NEW YORK—Bidders competed heartily at Swann Galleries’ auction of Fine Photographs & Photobooks on April 18, resulting in strong prices for images and sets that represented fine art as well as vernacular photography.

Daile Kaplan, Swann Vice President and Director of Photographs & Photobooks, said, “Documentary photographs of 19th-century China are increasingly sought after by Asian, European and American collectors and continue to realize robust prices. Blue-chip works also sold well amid competitive bidding.”

The sale’s top lot was Edward Weston’s stunning, avant-garde portrait of Charis (nude), silver print, 1935, which had been acquired from Cole Weston, $50,400*. Also among those blue-chips were Imogen Cunningham’s masterful Magnolia Blossom, Tower of Jewels, warm-toned silver print, 1925, and Ansel Adams’s treasured Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, silver print, 1941, printed 1978, $26,400 each.

Also bringing $26,400—and setting an auction record—was a rare vintage print of W. Eugene Smith’s Saipan, 1945, with a handwritten inscription explaining the story behind the war image of a soldier holding an ill infant, as well as hand stamps such as “Famous Picture, Do Not Circulate. 

Another record-breaking item was Minor White’s Jupiter Portfolio, with 12 lyrical silver print photographs from the 1940s through the early 1970s, New York, 1975, $33,600. Among other fine-art portfolios was Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Time Exposed, with 50 plates, 1991, $13,200.

Establishing a new auction benchmark for a photographer’s work was a binder containing 57 photographs of bodybuilders and nude musclemen from the late 1940s by Fred Kovert, $19,200.

There was also a George Platt Lynes, suite of 100 photographs relating to the New York City Ballet, from its inception to the early 1950s, including images of Balanchine productions, silver prints, 1938-1951, $36,000.

From the late 19th and early 20th century were albums full of images of fascinating Asian subjects, such as a Felice Beato portfolio with seven photographs relating to the aftermath of the “Pekin War,” 1860,  $19,200; a travel album with more than 180 cartes-de-visite portraits and landscapes of the Philippines, Japan, China and other countries, 1870s, $16,800; an album containing 39 albumen and cyanotype photographs of Hong Kong, 1881, $24,000; an accordion fold-out album with 44 photographs of China, 1880s, $20,400; and H.V.K., Views of China - Japan, portfolio with 50 photographs, 1890s, $18,000. A related item was a four-part panorama of Odin Bay, China by Beato, 1860, printed 1862 by Henry Hering, $18,000.

From the same era was a collection of 179 American tintype photographs, 1860s-90s, which included studio and en plein air images of occupational tradesmen (including a salesman), outdoor scenes, humorous vacation pictures, military men, commercial images, studies with curious props (including a crocodile and a bear), musicians and children with toys, $26,400; and Les Merveilles et les Originalités Architecturales à l’Exposition 1900, folio with 100 cyanotypes, Paris, 1900, $13,200.

A contemporary piece that echoes early photography is a 2002 Untitled, unique, oversized daguerreotype of a human skull by Adam Fuss, $18,000.

Rounding out the auction were striking portraits by well-known artists, among them Walker Evans’s image of Berenice Abbott, silver print, circa 1930, $14,400; two uncut photobooth self-portraits of Andy Warhol in a tuxedo and bowtie, early 1960s, $16,800; and Diane Arbus’s Waitress, Nudist Camp, NJ, silver print, 1963, printed before 1967, with an inscription by the artist, $16,800.

For complete results, an illustrated catalogue, with prices realized on request, is available for $35 from Swann Galleries, Inc., 104 East 25th Street, New York, NY 10010, or online at

For further information, and to propose consignments to upcoming Photographs auctions, please contact Daile Kaplan at (212) 254-4710, extension 21, or via email at

*All prices include buyer’s premium.

Image of a photographer with camera from a collection of 179 American tintype photographs, 1860s-90s, $26,400.