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Sotheby's Photographs Auction to feature rare Moholy-Nagy, Roger Fenton, Cindy Sherman & more
László Moholy-Nagy, Photogram 'Cover for the Magazine Broom', estimate $400/600,000. Courtesy Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s spring auction of Photographs on 3 April in New York will offer a varied range of historical, modern, and contemporary photographs spanning the 19th to the 21st centuries – from an early print of Roger Fenton’s Crimean War series in 1855 to contemporary works by Cindy Sherman, Irving Penn, Thomas Struth, and Helmut Newton among others. Nearly 230 lots with estimates ranging from $2,000 to $600,000 will be on public view in Sotheby's New York galleries beginning 28 March.

Leading the sale is an early photogram by László Moholy-Nagy (estimate $400/600,000), created in 1922 shortly after the artist began exploring cameraless photography. Moholy-Nagy, a painter, sculptor, theorist, and instructor at the Bauhaus, believed that the photogram was one of the purest and most expressive types of photography. He originally conceived this unique work as a possible cover illustration for the March 1923 issue of Broom: An International Magazine of the Arts. It is an exquisite example of what Moholy-Nagy would later refer to as a typophoto, a work that blended photography and typeface to produce a new means of visual communication. In his Broom photograms, he explored different configurations of the magazine’s letters (B R O O M), layering shapes of different density to create degrees of opacity or translucency. While none of Moholy-Nagy’s exceptional photogram designs were used for the magazine’s cover, the artist’s notations and handling instructions on the reverse of the present photogram indicate that this unique work was considered for publication. Two other unique photograms from the Broom series are in the collections of the Museum Folkwang, Essen, and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. The present photogram, which has descended through the artist’s family and has never been on the market, has extensive exhibition history including the recent ‘100 Years of Bauhaus’ show at the Bauhaus-Archiv / Museum für Gestaltung in Berlin.

European Modernism is further represented by five photographs from the Bragaglia Collection in Rome, including a rare photodynamic image of Un Gesto del Capo (A Gesture of the Head) by Anton Giulio and Arturo Bragaglia (estimate $50/70,000), featured in the 1913 edition of Fotodinamismo futurista, the first avant-garde photographic manifesto of the 20th century. Four photographs by August Sander are offered from the descendants of artist Gerd Arntz, including the rare Geistesarbeiter des Proletariats (Proletarian Intellectuals), a group portrait depicting Else Schüler, Tristan Rémy, Franz W. Seiwert, and Gerd Arntz, all of whom were associated with the avant-garde ‘Cologne Progressives’ (estimate $30/50,000).

The auction features an outstanding group of 19th-century works, including a salt print of A Quiet Day in the Mortar Battery from Roger Fenton’s famed and historically important Crimean War series (1855), which are considered the earliest war photographs (below, estimate $80/120,000). No other print of the image has appeared at auction in recent memory, and the present example descended through Fenton’s family for 150 years until it emerged at a gallery in New York in 2005. Other prints of this image are in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, The Royal Collection and the J. Paul Getty Museum. Innovative 19th century photographer Gustave Le Gray is represented by two large seascapes from the Normandy and Mediterranean coasts, including Le Brick au Clair de Lune (Brig on the Water) from 1856 (estimate $80/120,000), and La Vague brisée, Mer Méditeranée (The Breaking Wave), from 1857 (estimate $150/250,000).

Leading the sale’s offering of fashion photography is Helmut Newton’s iconic image of model and actress Charlotte Rampling at the Hotel Nord Pinus in Arles (estimate $300/500,000). Newton’s highly-stylized and unabashedly erotic image ran in Vogue’s December 1974 issue, prompting the magazine to proclaim Rampling as ‘the sexiest woman of the seventies.’ Newton went on to photograph Rampling multiple times for Vogue in the ensuing years, and his work for the magazine remains instantly recognizable. Other fashion highlights include several Irving Penn photographs, among them the Woman in the Moroccan Palace (estimate $70/100,000), and Kate Moss (Hand on Neck) (estimate $50/70,000).

A large-format print of Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Still #81 (estimate $200/300,000) leads the contemporary offerings in the auction and has never been offered at auction. Sherman’s series Untitled Film Stills is the artist’s most celebrated body of work and solidified her artistic practice of using her own body as the main element in the expanding repertoire of portraits that she continues to make. In Untitled Film Still #81, Sherman depicts a woman in a lacy slip observing herself in the bathroom mirror. The compressed space of the hallway and bathroom highlight the lithe lines of her body, and the reflection of her face, framed by her own arm and hair, creates a complex composition that challenges us to make spatial sense of the compact environment. Other significant contemporary offerings include Galleria dell’Accademia 1, Venice by Thomas Struth (estimate $150/250,000), as well as works by Christian Marclay, Candida Höfer, Hank Willis Thomas, Sophie Calle, and Shirin Neshat, among others.

Twelve early 20th century photographs will be sold from a private New York collection to benefit The Asia Foundation, a non-governmental organization devoted to promoting a peaceful, just, and thriving Asia. Highlights include Edward Weston’s Cabbage Leaf (estimate $70/100,000), Alfred Stieglitz’s The Hand of Man (estimate $80/120,000), and Ansel Adams’ Winter, Yosemite Valley (Pine Branch in Snow) from 1932 (estimate $25/35,000). Founded in 1954, The Asia Foundation has five principal goals: strengthen governance, expand economic opportunity, increase environmental resilience, promote international cooperation, and empower women.

The subject of a current retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Dorothea Lange is represented by four quintessential examples from her photographic survey of the effects of the Depression across America, including early prints of Six Tenant Farmers Without Farms, Goodlet, Hardeman County, Texas (estimate $40/60,000) and Mother and Baby of Family on the Road, Tulelake, Siskiyou County, California (right, estimate $30/50,000) as well as a large later example of the iconic Woman of the High Plains, Texas Panhandle (estimate $10/15,000), printed in preparation for her first MoMA retrospective.

The American photographer Aaron Siskind, known for championing abstract photography, is represented by a strong selection of works from his Chicago (estimate $15/25,000) and Harlem Document (estimate $6/9,000) series. These photographs are sold from the collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which received in January 2020 an unprecedented gift of more than 8,000 photographs from the Aaron Siskind Foundation. The Museum’s deaccession will support the Siskind Prize, an annual fellowship grant for artists working in photography and photo-based art.

The sale also offers an extensive survey of the history of color photography, including Thanksgiving Scene (estimate $20/30,000), a 1936 color carbro print by Paul Outerbridge; Stephen Shore’s Holden Street, North Adams, Massachusetts, July 13, 1974 (estimate $15/25,000); Joel Meyerowitz’s Provincetown, Cape Cod (Dairyland) (estimate $8/12,000) from 1976; and Anne Collier’s 2006 California Girl (estimate $15/25,000).

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