Recent Photography Sales at Auction

It’s October and a number of photography auctions are taking place across the country and around the world.  Here is the first installment of some noteworthy results in our field of study.

Swann Auction Galleries – October 5, 2017
At the recent auction of African-American Fine Art at Swann Auction Galleries, nine photographs by artists such as Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Louis Draper, P.H. Polk, Roy DeCarava, and James VanDerZee were offered for sale.  The top three lots included:

  • Four panels from Carrie Mae Weems’ Sea Island Series produced in 1992, Estimate: 30,000-50,000 USD, sold for 45,000 USD with buyer’s premium;
  • Dancers (1956) by Roy DeCarava, silver gelatin photograph, printed in 1981, Estimate: 15,000 – 25,000 USD, sold for 23,750 USD with buyer’s premium; and
  • C-Ration (1991) by Lorna Simpson, silver print (diptych), Estimate 3,000 –  5,000 USD, sold for 8,750 USD with buyer’s premium.
LORNA SIMPSON (1960 – )  C-Ration.

Sotheby’s – October 5, 2017

Noteworthy at the Sotheby’s Photographs auction is Charleston, S.C. by Robert Frank.  Estimated to sell between 300,000 – 500,000 USD, the oversized print, signed, titled and dated in 1955, printed in 1967-68, sold for 348,500 USD including buyer’s premium.

Sotheby’s – September 28, 2017

PostWar and Contemporary Photographs featured works by Kudzanai Chiurai and Yinka Shonibare MBE.

Kudzanai Chiurai



Top Selling Photographs at Swann African-American Art Auction, April 6, 2017

The top selling photographs at Swann’s recent auction of African-American Art included James Van Der Zee’s Eighteen Photographs, and Carrie Mae Weems’ Chocolate Colored Man.

In Chocolate Colored Man, a three-toned gelatin silver print triptych produced in 1989-90, one views three profiles of a man labeled individually by three different terms: Chocolate Colored Man.  The 16 x 18 inches framed work was produced in an edition of three (3), and is part of the Colored People series.  The work sold for 68, 750 USD (with buyer’s premium),  and had an auction estimate of 35,000-50,000 USD.

The April 6th sale at Swann’s was the fourth time that James Van Der Zee’s Eighteen Photographs were sold at the auction house.  The portfolio was produced in an edition of 75.  It contains eighteen (18) mounted silver and sepia-toned silver prints produced between 1905 and 1938.  As written in the online catalogue about the 32/75 edition:

A handsome portfolio, published by Harry Lunn, Jr., with iconic images from VanDerZee’s photographic career. It includes various subjects of the Harlem Renaissance, as well as studies of Marcus Garvey, Daddy Grace, and formal family portraits.

In this sale, the portfolio sold for 87,500 USD (with buyer’s premium), and had an auction estimate of 40,000-60,000 USD.  On October 15, 2007, edition 36/75 of the portfolio was unsold at Swann’s 19th and 20th Century Photographs and Photobooks auction, with an estimate of 10,000-15,000 USD.   A few months later it sold for 26,400 USD in the February 19, 2008 sale of African-American Art.  The auction estimate was 15,000-20,000 USD.  Later that year, edition 8/75 sold for 40,800 USD, with auction estimate of 15,000-20,000 USD.

VanDerZee Weems

Recent Sales of Work by Black Photographers

Just a quick round-up of recent sales of works by black photographers that came to auction.

At the April 7, 2016 Swann Galleries auction of African-American Fine Art, Carrie Mae Weem’s Blue Black Boy was sold for $40,000 (hammer price), the low estimate for this lot.  From the Colored People series, the work consists of a triptych of three toned gelatin silver prints with text and frame, dated 1987-88.  This work is part of an edition of 3.  The artist printed a single image of this work in an edition of 5 in 1997, an example of which sold at Sotheby’s April 1, 2015 for $25,000.


I like to see examples of artist portraits of other artists.  This portrait photograph of Maya Angelou is particularly striking and fetched an impressive sale price of $ 14,000 (hammer price), 14 times the low estimate.  The work was sold at the September 15, 2015 sale of The Art Collection of Maya Angelou at Swann Galleries.  Photographed by Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, the 1993 silver print is hand colored measuring 10 x 10 1/2 inches.

Maya Angelou

American Gothic, one of Gordon Park’s most famous images, sold at Be-Hold, October 22, 2015 for $ 2,600.  The 1942 image was printed in 1991 and measures 10 x 7 1/8 inches on a 13 x 11 inch sheet.  The photograph sold above its high estimate.

American Gothic.png


Skinner Auction Offers Chuck Stewart Photograph

At the September 7th Skinner Auction (Boston, MA) of American and European Paintings & Prints, Lot 249, a photograph of jazz musician, John Coltrane, is estimated to sell for $800-1,200.

The photograph, John Coltrane, NYC, May 66, is by Chuck Stewart, a noted photographer of jazz musicians in the 1950s-1960s. The signed print, produced in 1995, is edition 8/100, and is unmatted and unframed.

Stewart is the 2009 recipient of the Milt Hinton Award for Excellence in Jazz Photography presented by the Jazz Photographers Association.  Stewart has photographed Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Dinah Washington, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, and Betty Carter, among others.

Some New York Photography Auctions – October

Christie’s Photographs sale held October 6-7 in New York yielded 5,571,537 USD including buyer’s premium.
IRVING PENN (1917-2009) photograph, The Palm of Miles Davis (New York), 1986, sold for 146,500 USD, nearly three times its high estimate (30,000 – 50,000 USD). This lot was the second highest sale price of all the Penn lots, and the third highest seller in the entire auction of 263 lots.
Irving Penn, The Palm of Miles Davis, 1986
ASA C. PARTRIDGE photograph, Portrait of a slave woman and her young charge, 1840, a half-plate daguerreotype with hand coloring, sold for 1,250 USD, well below its estimate of  7,000-9,000 USD. 

Asa C. Partridge, Portrait of A Slave Women and Her Young Charge, 1840s

At the Sotheby’s Photographs sale, held October 6,  works by  Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) SELECTED STUDIES sold for 8,750 USD, just below its low estimate: 10,000—15,000 USD. The sale, held in New York, yielded 4,970,754  USD including buyer’s premium.

Cowan’s Auction of Historic and Western Americana – June 25 & 26, 2009

Cowan’s Auctions has scheduled its Historic and Western Americana auction for June 25th and 26th, 2009. The lots are expected to represent materials that pertain to Civil War Photography, Early Photography, Slavery and the African-American Experience, and more.

In 2003, Cowan’s sold a daguerreotype image of slavery in Virginia from the Brasseur Collection of Cased Images, for $22,425. The estimate was $10,000-$15,000.