NEW YORK — Swann Galleries will present A Singular History of Photography: 100 Works from the Stephen White Collection in the spring Fine Photographs auction on Thursday, April 27. This dynamic offering tells the history of the medium through White’s distinct perspective; one honed through decades in the business collecting and selling, and as many years living with, studying and loving photographs. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
Beginning with early prints describing the excitement around the invention of capturing and fixing an image and continuing through the early decades of experimentation with process and expression, White’s collection describes a heady period of discovery and exploration of various possibilities of representation. Photography’s immediate importance in documenting and sharing information serves as an early theme, including Roger Fenton’s pioneering image from the Crimean War, Valley of the Shadow of Death, a salted paper print from 1855, estimated at $20,000-$30,000; and an exceptionally rare view that documents the vicinity of the execution of Emperor Maximilian in Mexico from 1867 by Francois Aubert, estimated at $15,000-$25,000.
The idea that photography possesses a dual or hybrid identity as both an art form and documentarian tool is ever-present, and continues throughout, including an astonishing large-format example of Tom Howard’s 1928 surreptitious and immediately iconic image made at the execution of Ruth Snyder, estimated at $20,000-$30,000; an early print showing the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903, estimated at $5,000-$7,500; and Garry Winogrand’s 1957 noir portrait of Victor Riesel, a syndicated journalist blinded after an acid attack. This last is estimated at $10,000-$15,000.
But, the artistic practices embodied by photographers thread through the offering as well, including the stunning composite work done by Colonel Henry Stuart Wortley with the circa-1863 image Moon Rising Over Church Tower, estimated at $2,500-$3,500; as well as the duo Robinson and Cherrill and their well-known The Beached Margent of the Sea, which has an estimate of $5,000-$7,500 — both significant examples of the technical skill photographers put to glorious use. Also on offer is Lewis Carroll’s investigations into childhood with the 1875 detail study of Brook Taylor Kitchin as St. George, estimated at $8,000-$12,000, and a circa-1858 image of Julia Margaret Cameron with her children, estimated at $6,000-$9,000. And finally, two of Andre Kertesz’s early photographs made in Budapest — Autumn Set in Pest Yesterday (portraits of Angelo), a 1925 silver print estimated at $8,000-$12,000, and Only the Third Grace is Missing, another silver print from 1925, estimated at $6,000-$9,000 — showcasing a photographer already fully immersed in artistic practice, producing studies of the artistic circle he was part of.
The spring auction continues with significant works from iconic 20th-century photographers. The sale is headlined by an exceptional and compelling set of the 1906 issues of Camera Work (Numbers 13, 14, 15, 16, and the Steichen Supplement) bound together in an original binding, likely by Otto Knoll. Featuring Steichen’s The Flatiron—Evening, the set is enclosed in a supple leather binding apparently used by Stieglitz for presentation volumes of his publication and carries an estimate of $30,000-$40,000.
Other highlights include a full-frame example of Robert Frank’s White Tower, 14th Street, New York, taken in 1948 and printed in the 1980s, estimated at $10,000-$15,000; as well as Shomei Tomatsu’s irresistible Chewing Gum & Chocolate, Yokosuka, shot in 1958, printed in 2004 and estimated at $15,000-$20,000. Bidders can explore a stunning large-format 1997 Adam Fuss photogram from his series My Ghost, estimated at $15,000-$20,000, and Helmut Newton’s striking Rue Aubriot (i), Yves St. Laurent, Haute Couture Collection, Paris, shot in 1975, printed in the 2000s and having an estimate of $30,000-$40,000.
The auction features several rare portraits, including two by Jimmy DeSana: one of Andy Warhol from 1978, estimated at $3,000-$4,000, and the other of Ethel Scull, also from 1978, estimated at $2,000-$3,000. Swann will also offer a portrait of Glenway Wescott by Irving Penn, taken in 1948 and estimated at $5,000-$7,500; an intimate portrait of Robert Mapplethorpe by George Dureau from 1985, estimated at $2,500-$3,500; as well as a tender vintage portrait of Charis by Edward Weston, from 1941, signed and initialed by the photographer and estimated at $15,000-$25,000.
Josef Sudek’s dazzling use of light in his circa-1971 still life Airmail Memories for Dr. Brumlik (Aerial Recollections,) estimated at $6,000-$9,000; and Brett Weston’s skillful rendering of abstracted landscape in Dune, White Sands, taken in 1946, printed in 1949 and sporting an identical estimate, describes two photographers at the height of their technical and compositional powers.
The April 27 sale lineup also contains Valentina Kulagina’s circa-1930 May First, Forward to the New Victories — an exceptionally rare work by a Russian avant-garde artist, which is estimated at $5,000-$7,500. And finally, there is Willi Ruge’s Photo of Myself at the Moment of my Jump from the 1931 series I Photograph Myself During a Parachute Jump, an exultant documentation of the photographer’s real-time parachute jump, estimated at $15,000-$20,000.
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