Auction Preview: Photographic Masterworks by William Eggleston Sold to Benefit the Eggleston Artistic Trust, March 12, 2012 @Christie’s

Regular readers here will know that starting last summer I moved away from comprehensive reporting on worldwide photography and contemporary art auctions to spend more time on reviews of gallery and museum shows. Just because I wasn’t analyzing the sales doesn’t mean that I wasn’t following them as closely or actively as ever; I just concluded that I needed to focus my available writing time on the reviews. This decision wasn’t ever meant to be a hard and fast one, and today, I’ll be jumping back into the auction fray to talk about the Eggleston sale later tonight, and I’ll follow up later this week to report on the results.

The reason this particular sale caught my attention is that I think it represents some topics worth talking about further. For those unfamiliar with what is going on here, this sale is an offering of extra large, recently made pigment prints (44×60 or reverse, in editions of 2), never before available in the market. Overall, there are a total of 36 lots available, with a total High estimate of $3350000. So not only do we have a process that Eggleston has never used before, we have an unprecedented use of scale, applied to a selection of images, both greatest hits and lesser known works. In addition, Eggleston is using the Damien Hirst model of direct to the collector via an auction house, bypassing the normal gallery route for new work.

My first reaction to both the idea of extra large, poster sized modern prints, as well as to the distribution model was one of extreme skepticism. Having not seen the prints, it seemed like a cashing-in, making big prints for the sake of being big and selling them for big prices to big collectors. While I certainly don’t begrudge artists for finding creative ways for making money, the premise here seemed a bit commercial I must say. But I withheld judgment until I could go and see the prints for myself, which I did last week during the preview. (Installation shots from the preview at right.)

Aside from a couple of prints which suffer from over enlargement graininess and fuzziness in certain spots, I was surprised to find that the prints are pretty terrific, in some cases downright spectacular. The colors are saturated and vibrant, with a thick, richness that I wasn’t expecting. While the tricycle, the red ceiling, the green shower, and the peaches sign are, of course, all here, the really smart and unexpected aspect of these particular prints is that Eggleston seems to have thought carefully about which lesser known images would benefit most from increased scale. I’d say roughly half of the works for sale use this scale change for maximum effect. The low angle, worm’s eye views are especially strong, as are the top down views of car hoods and trunks. The shiny brass doorknob is something altogether different in this larger size. And a huge front tire, with Eggleston himself reflected in the silvery chrome of the bumper, was my favorite of the non-obvious choices.

So my revised conclusion is that while I’m still wary of the feeling of a sell-out, I expect these well-made prints are going to do very well indeed, with some of the iconic images running up much higher than the estimates might foretell.

Here’s the simple statistical breakdown:

Preview Statistics
Total Low Lots (high estimate up to and including $10000) 0
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of low lots) NA
Total Mid Lots (high estimate between $10000 and $50000) 7
Total Mid Estimate $350000
Total High Lots (high estimate above $50000) 29
Total High Estimate $3000000

The top photography lot by High estimate is lot 24, William Eggleston, Untitled, 1970, at $200000-300000. (This is the tricycle.)

The complete lot by lot catalog can be found here. The eCatalogue is here.

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Read more about: William Eggleston, Christie's


  1. Anonymous /

    I believe the sale is to benefit the Eggleston Artistic Trust, and given what I've heard it's more specifically to raise money for an Eggleston Museum in Memphis.

  2. Thom Cardwell /

    The Eggleston Artsitic Turst is owned and operated by the William Eggleston family, primarily his two sons, who control the works of their father and how they get repressnted, reproduced, distributed, sold, in the art marketplace and to the public. I bleive that the proposed Egggelston Museum in Memphis is not the same organization or entity, and iniated by a small group of admireres, perhaps collectors, from NYC, of Eggelston's artistic merits. But the journalists in the arts world can clarify these finer facts for us all.

  3. Anonymous /

    Sorry about the typos above. Here's the corrected copy. The Eggleston Artistic Trust is owned and operated by the William Eggleston family, primarily by his two sons, who control the works of their father and how they get represented, reproduced, distributed, sold, in the art marketplace and to the public. I believe that the proposed Eggleston Museum in Memphis is not the same organization or entity, and initiated by a small group of admirers, perhaps collectors, from NYC, of Eggleston's artistic merits. But the journalists in the arts world can clarify these finer facts for us all.

  4. Brian Appel /

    I know there were some collectors unhappy about the exhibition; they felt the jumbo size of the prints were a commercial grab by the artist, and one collector even began a lawsuit saying the production of these prints drove down the value of images he had already purchased. In reality these images offered an unprecedented opportunity to purchase works that are completely unique; the jumbo scale, and extraordinary saturation of color, yet different than the jewel-like quality of the smaller prints make these fundamentally different from the 'originals'. What is so interesting is that the results of the sale–record breaking–belied the traditional belief that the closer prints are made in relation to the exposure are more authentic and hence more valuable–was totally turned on its head. Obviously the work attracted a buyer who was not necessarily wedded to this premise uniquely attached to the beliefs of the specialized photography collector. The artist's “Los Alamos” pictures, for example, made in his “trademarked” dye-transfer process were in reality printed many years after their exposures and sold extremly well suggesting the “vintage” print as being more valuable is not necessarily so. Eggleston's work has always appealed to a larger market than the photography market (which has been referred to many times in the past as a “ghetto”) and, although Christie's did not publish the names of the collectors/dealers who bought these images I'm willing to speculate they were bought by “contemporary art” collectors who see the artist's work as impacting the larger art world. Any photography that does so (think Sherman, Prince, Gursky, etc.) is healthy for both the photography market and the larger art market. I say BRAVO to Eggleston for providing these “new” images and in the process raising the bar for photography as a whole!

    Brian Appel/

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