Jean Patchett, Vogue, New York, 1950 by Erwin Blumenfeld
Photography is the focus of the London art market next week. Five auction houses are staging specialized sales, with Phillips celebrating the 100th anniversary of Vogue magazine, MacDougall’s branching out into Russian photography with the help of respected dealer and art adviser Zelda Cheatle, and Bloomsbury Auctions staging one of its popular, low-value sales concentrating on the Sixties.
A fair, Photo London, at Somerset House, is the icing on the cake. There will be more than 80 dealers, stimulating talks, and gallery exhibitions, such as the superb early modernist work by American artist Paul Strand currently at the V&A. Together these really do contest the notion that the photography market in Britain is down and out.
Irving Penn Mouth (For L’Oréal), New York, 1986
That view dates back eight years to the closure of the last London photography fair and the transfer two years later of Sotheby’s London’s photography sales to Paris – a process that has been reversed in both cases.
Next week’s London auctions are more glamour and fashion-driven than those in Paris or New York, where rare, 19th and early 20th-century vintage prints tend to steal the shows. Phillips maintains that rarity can also apply to contemporary fashion photography, with unique photos by Nick Knight (of Rebekka Botzem), Steven Meisel (of Naomi Campbell) and Mario Testino (of Gisele Bündchen) among others made for Vogue over the past 35 years, followed by extremely rare prints of images by Robert Mapplethorpe (a £60,000 self-portrait), Peter Beard (a £100,000 photo and drawing collage of model Maureen feeding a giraffe at night), and a masterpiece from The Raven series (£15,000) by Masahisa Fukase.
Top lot at Sotheby’s is Irving Penn’s jazzily multi-coloured lipstick Mouth (for L’Oreal), New York, 1986, estimated at £180,000. The image is tongue-in-cheek, and credited with being an early example of the cross-over between fine art and advertising. It is followed by other big fashion names such as Richard Avedon, closely associated with Andy Warhol, Guy Bourdin, who bonded with the art world with his series of studio portraits, and Miles Aldridge, the latest contemporary photographer to stir demand at auction.
Christie’s, similarly, tips its hat to fame and glamour, with its top lot, a large collage of Marilyn Monroe by wildlife photographer Peter Beard, blending the artist’s interests in African wildlife and American city life, fame and glamour. Heart Attack City comes with a price to match the title: £300,000.