The First Photographic Book, "British Algae," at Sotheby's Paris

Screen Shot 2016-10-27 at 9.09.54 AM.pngParis, October 2016: The day following the sale “Photographies” with photographs from various owners, Sotheby’s is selling a major European collection, "Photographs from Atkins to Warhol", on Friday 11 November. With 79 lots spanning the history of the medium, the sale offers outstanding highlights from the 19th century to the mid-20th century; the collection reflects the various experiments and developments in the art, including major works from Europe and America.

The rare album British Algae (estimate: €120,000-180,000) by Anna Atkins, considered as the first photography book in history, will lead the 19th Century section of the sale.

At the core of this collection, there is a particular focus on avant-garde photography, with artists including Karl Blossfeldt (famous for his study of the “forms of nature”), Rudolf Koppitz, internationally accalaimed for his Bewegungsstudie (Motion Study), and photographer and film director Leni Riefenstahl. 

American photography is also well represented, with a legendary work by the artist Alfred Stieglitz, and works by Edward Weston and Ansel Adams.

British Algae: Anna Atkins 

British Algae (estimate: €120,000-180,000) is a seminal work in the history of photography for numerous reasons.

Its author, Anna Atkins, was one of the first female photographers, one of the very few women of her time to have studied science, and above all a famous botanist. Introduced to photography and the cyanotype technique by its inventor, Sir John Herschel, she saw it as the perfect means to represent her botanical research work. The scientist then became a pioneer in the use of photographs to illustrate books. 

British Algae is considered as the first book in the history of photography, solely using photographs. This album of 102 cyanotypes was produced between 1843 and 1853.

The definitive version of her book on plants can be found at the Royal Society, London, and copies of the album can be found in leading international museums: the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the British Museum in London and the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford. Only a few copies still remain in private hands, meaning that the book up for sale on 11 November is a rare opportunity in the market.

Avant-garde Photographs

Strongly inspired by the philosophy of nature (thinking that arose from the German tradition of philosophy), Karl Blossfeldte stablished himself as a photographer of plants and nature. The two works in the sale embody this vision perfectly. Hydrangea Macrophylla, a silver print from around 1920 (lot 23, estimate: €20,000-30,000) is a close-up of a hydrangea flower.

The photograph entitled Celosia Cristata Hahnenkamm, taken in around 1920 (lot 24, estimate: €30,000-40,000) is another example of his systematic work on plants.

We now leave the world of botany for Rudolf Koppitz. A collection of 74 postcards, produced between 1920 and 1930 (lot 17, estimate: €50,000-70,000) will be going under the hammer. Most of the cards demonstrate the artist's liking for powerful, graphic compositions of bodies: an expression of the modernist aims of the Viennese Secession. Belonging to his legendary Bewegungsstudie or Motion Study series, this iconic photograps exerts its magnetism through the enigmatic sensuality created by the arrangement of the bodies. 

In a different style, a group of 15 prints featuring portraits, landscapes and indoor scenes, dated 1920 to 1930, illustrate a more social aspect of the artist's work (lot 18, estimate: €30,000-50,000).

A portfolio of 24 silver prints taken from Leni Riefenstahl's masterly film "Olympia"provides an artistic and historical testimony (lot 32, estimate: €50,000-70,000). For Riefenstahl, the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin gave her a chance to experiment with numerous new techniques, such as placing the camera on rails to follow the athletes'’movements as closely as possible, slow motion, wide-angle shots and aerial shots. It provides a valuable documentary of the athletes' extraordinary physical effort, as well as the highly singular atmosphere of these Games.

American Photography

A pioneering photographer and passionate advocate of photography as a genuine art, Alfred Stieglitz often immortalised New York through his camera. The Steerage, taken in 1907 (lot 13, estimate: €15,000-20,000), is a poignant record of the large waves of immigrants who arrived in the New World from Europe.

The group is rounded off with three landscapes by Ansel Adams. Capturing the most beautiful spots of the American West, the artist established his passionate ecological commitment with magnificent pictures taken in New Mexico-Penitente Morada, Coyote, New Mexico, (lot 65, estimate: €8,000-12,000) in 1950-and California-Manly Beacon Death Valley National Monument, California from around 1952 (lot 66, estimate: €7,000-10,000).

Another illustrator of the American West, Edward Weston, will be in the spotlight with five photographs. One of these lot is by the artist and Margrethe Mather: a one-off collaboration in Weston's work. The Marion Morgan Dancers (lot 55, estimate: €30,000-40,000) is a platinum palladium print dating from 1921 showing dancers from Marion Morgan's ballet troupe in a purely pictorialist style.

Other important works in the sale include: a remarkable dye-transfer print by William Eggleston (lot 78, estimate: €8,000-12,000), and, a portfolio of portraits of Andy Warhol and the Factory by Philippe Halsman (lot 79, estimate: €3,000-5,000).

Auction: Friday 11 November at 3.00 p.m.

Exhibition: 5, 7, 8, 9 and 10 November

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