The photography market’s top sales… from Paris to New York

The photography market’s top sales… from Paris to New York

thomas struth

Every November Paris hosts a multitude of special events dedicated to photography. This year the core fair, Paris Photo, was accompanied by numerous “off” fairs and auction sales, as well as a whole series of special exhibitions at Parisian cultural institutions. The result was a rich and highly diverse program attracting a record number of visitors, and confirming the French capital’s leading role in the photography market… even if New York posts much higher turnover at its specialised photography sales.

Genuine market enthusiasm

Paris Photo is a meeting point for all photography professionals and artists and it remains the only event offering such a complete and diverse panorama of the market… from the medium’s timeless classics to a whole range of highly singular and unusual works. The 23rd edition of the fair ended on Sunday 10 November with a new attendance record: more than 70,000 people visited the fair’s stands under the glass roof of the Grand Palais over four days. The world’s biggest event showcasing ‘old’ and ‘contemporary’ photography, Paris Photo hosted 213 exhibitors including 33 publishers from 31 countries (29% French and 19% Americans, the market’s two leading nationalities). The debut participation of no less than 38 galleries also proved that Paris Photo has maintained its attractiveness and, indeed, is constantly renewing its appeal.

RankArtistArtworkHammer PriceDateSale
1Helmut NEWTON
Sie Kommen (1981)$1,820,00004/04/2019Phillips, NewYork
Self-Portrait (1924)$1,246,57006/03/2019Christie’s, Londres
Bugger (1977)$1,009,12026/06/2019Sotheby’s, Londres
Untitled Film Still #21 (1978)$808,37005/03/2019Sotheby’s, Londres
5Edward Henry WESTON
Circus Tent (1924)$788,00004/04/2019Phillips, NewYork
Telephone Wires, Mexico (1925)$692,00004/04/2019Phillips, NewYork
7Edward Henry WESTON
Shell (Nautilus)(1927)$678,06006/03/2019Christie’s, Londres
8Andreas GURSKY
May Day V (2006)$650,40007/03/2019Phillips, Londres
9Richard AVEDON
Dovima with Elephants (1955)$615,00002/04/2019Christie’s, NewYork
10Thomas STRUTHMailänder Dom (1998)$551,70006/03/2019Christie’s, Londres

* from January 1 to November 12, 2019

By the end of the fair, the overall feedback was very positive. Lots of galleries indicated the presence of new collectors who had never attended the fair before. There were ‘significant’ sales in all five sectors of the fair… the ‘Main’ sector, Publishing, Films, PRISMES and Curiosa (the latter dedicated to the emerging scene under the curatorial guidance of Osei Bonsu, recently appointed Curator of International Art at the Tate Modern). More than 60% of the acquisitions were made by international institutions and museums and lots of galleries said it was their most profitable Paris Photo. The New York Pace/McGill gallery, for example, said it was their best opening, having sold works by all of their featured artists, including Richard AVEDON (responsible for the best Fine Art photography results in the France this year. cf graph) and a photo by Robert FRANK at more than $137,000 (the recently deceased photographer was the subject of numerous tributes during the fair). Of the 29 solo shows, the Gagosian and the 1900-2000 galleries focused on MAN RAYillustrating the growing interest of Contemporary galleries for the medium’s ‘historic’ artists. Indeed, their museum-quality selections contributed to the success of this edition.

richard avedon Marilyn Monroe in furs and sequins

Focus on budding collectors…

At the carrousel du Louvre, the Fotofever fair provided another perfect opportunity for fans of contemporary photography to commence collections, offering a selection of works under €1,000 and a special Start to Collect initiative featuring a ‘home placement simulator’. The 8th edition of this international contemporary photography fair hosted a hundred galleries mainly from Europe, as well as galleries from South Korea (the Mug gallery), China (24p Studio) and Mexico (Flux Zone). There was a special focus on French photography to celebrate the 180th anniversary of the invention of photography in France and – for the second year running – a 40-booth “La Ruche” section was organised in order to allow young galleries first-time access to a Contemporary Art fair and to accompany and support young artists. Fotofever is also the first contemporary art fair to achieve a perfect gender parity goal (with 50% of the artists represented being female), reflecting the growing number of women among the younger generation of photographers.

During the fair’s four days, the programme In Paris during Paris Photo listed a selection of exhibitions in the capital, including Carte Blanche for Hassan Hajjaj at the Maison Européenne de la photo, the Photographic Infamies of Sigmar POLKE at Le Bal, an exhibition of work by Sebastiao SALGADO entitled Déclarations at the Musée de l’Homme and a show of work by Denis BRIHAT at the BnF titled Photographies: de la nature des choses.


Naturellement, Parisian auction houses held a series of photography sales during the capital’s artistic and commercial focus on the medium. First off, Christie’s – just a few days before the launch of Paris Photo – offered 150 iconic images, including one of the first ten prints of Richard Avedon’s legendary black and white portrait of Marilyn Monroe, actress, New York city, 6 mai 1957. The photo fetched a record price of $383,000 beating the artist’s best French auction result of $293,700 for the large-format Dovima with Elephants, Evening Dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris at Christie’s. The value of Irving PENN’s famous Bee photo also rose (model Estella Warren pictured with a bee on her mouth), doubling its high estimate to reach $125,700, and Constantin Brancusi’s Le Coq, La Muse Endormie from the artist’s studio quadrupled its low estimate, reaching $207,590. Christie’s sale, which also contained a number of fashion photos now considered iconic, generated $3.1 million, a total that clearly reflects growing interest in the photography medium.
Sotheby’s Parisian sale (106 lots) on November 8 would have been a huge success had it not been marred by two substantial failures: Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Still #16 featured on the catalogue cover and estimated $331,100 – $552,000, and a superb daguerreotype of Cathédrale Notre-Dame De Paris by Vincent Chevalier. On the other hand, the majority of the works estimated below $10,000 far exceeded expectations, such as Liu Bolin’s “Construct Harmonious Society Together (Hiding In the City No.50)” which fetched over $17,000, four times its low estimate. A number of other works above that price threshold sold within their estimated ranges including Richard Avedon’s double portrait of Francis Bacon, Artist, Paris (which reached $41,300), Irving Penn’s Poppy: Showgirl, New York and Peter Lindbergh’s portrait of model Linda Evangelista, Paris. Two photos, one by Thomas STRUTH and the other by Cindy SHERMANreached 6-digit results (>$100,000) that count among the Top 10 auction results for photographs so far this year.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Cindy Sherman, Ohne titel (Madonna) (1955/77)

Paris – New York

The global photography market has contracted in recent years. In 2014, the segment generated a global turnover of $220 million compared with just $135 million in 2018. However, while the fall in turnover may look severe, it doesn’t appear to reflect a decline in collector interest. In fact, the figures suggest that more and more people are buying photography with 2018 posting a record number of transactions (more than 17,000). So far this year, a little over 13,000 photographs have sold publicly (generating just over $100 million), so this year’s figures are unlikely to be so good… However the market has not yet closed as Christie’s has scheduled an exceptional sale in New York (December 10) that will offer over 100 photographs by the great Ansel ADAMS (Adams and the American West: Photographs from the Center for Creative Photography) and could well add a million dollars to the global total.
In fact, New York’s share in the art photography market is likely to grow in the future with the first edition of Paris photo scheduled for April 2020. The ambition is to reach American galleries and collectors who do not travel to Paris. According to the Director of Paris Photo Florence Bourgeois, the New York outlet could strengthen the dominant position of its parent company in Europe and give Paris a stronger lead over the UK fair, Photo London. However, for the time being, New York and London are still generating the best auction results on the segment, although Paris remains a reference in the sector.

 RankArtistArtworkHammer PriceDateSale
1Richard AVEDONMarilyn Monroe (1957)$383,10005/11/2019Christie’s, Paris
2Richard AVEDON
Dovima with Elephants (1955)$293,76119/06/2019Christie’s, Paris
Statue of Liberty (1976-1986)$238,26019/06/2019Christie’s, Paris
Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi (1989)$224,20019/06/2019Christie’s, Paris
5Irving PENN
Harlequin Dress (1950)$224,20019/06/2019Christie’s, Paris
Cindy Crawford, Tatjana Patitz, Helena Christensen… (1991)$210,20019/06/2019Christie’s, Paris
7Constantin BRANCUSI
Le Coq, La Muse Endormie (1924)$207,59005/11/2019Christie’s, Paris
8Irving PENN
Woman in Moroccan(1951)$196,20019/06/2019Christie’s, Paris
9Helmut NEWTON
Sie Kommen (1981)$196,20019/06/2019Christie’s, Paris
10Herb RITTS
Versace Dress (1990)$154,20019/06/2019Christie’s, Paris
 RankArtistArtworkHammer PriceDateSale
1Helmut NEWTON
Sie Kommen (1981)$1,820,00004/04/2019Phillips, New York
2Edward Henry WESTON
Circus Tent (1924)$788 000 $04/04/2019Phillips, New York
Telephone Wires, Mexico (1925)$692 000 $04/04/2019Phillips, New York
4Richard AVEDON
Dovima with Elephants (1955)$615 000 $02/04/2019Christie’s, New York
Heavy Roses (1914)$524 000 $04/04/2019Phillips, New York
6Barbara KRUGER
Untitled  (1999)$519 000 $16/05/2019Christie’s, New York
Pelikan Tinte (1924)$462 500 $05/04/2019Sotheby’s, New York
“Flood Refugees, Louisville, Kentucky”(1937)$400,00004/04/2019Phillips, New York
9Helmut NEWTON
Panoramic Nude (1989)$399,00002/10/2019Christie’s, New York
10Andreas GURSKY
May Day II$399,00016/05/2019Christie’s, New York

* from January 1 to November 12, 2019

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