Auction Preview: Leaves of Light and Shadow: Photographs Gathered by William T. Hillman, March 31, 2015 @Christie’s

It’s often the case that as an established collector gets further along in his or her passionate gatherings, a special relationship with an institution develops that changes the trajectory of his or her process of collecting. Over time, the question of whether a certain potential acquisition is loved by the collector or fits into the collector’s singular vision of the collection begins to quietly battle with the needs of the museum, from the obvious holes in its particular collections to the pet projects and upcoming exhibitions of its curators. For many, the building of the institutional collection (initially from the “outside”) ultimately trumps the individual instincts, and acquisitions decisions often become more balanced and collaborative, or at least more overtly aware of the future context of the larger institutional collection. In this world, if your museum of choice needs a Strand, you might find yourself buying one, even if it isn’t your personal cup of tea.

From the catalog notes for this single owner photography sale coming up at Christie’s, the William T. Hillman collection seems to be following this path, with the Carnegie Museum of Art (here) in Hillman’s hometown of Pittsburgh being the worthy recipient of his generous support and patronage. The Hillman collection appears to have been roughly divided in two, with half of the works ultimately moving directly into the museum and the other half being sold here, with the proceeds from the sale going back to plug gaps in the museum’s collection. This is in addition to Hillman’s support of the impressive Hillman Photography Initiative (here).

While it’s difficult to chart a collector’s eye from only half the items, Hillman’s own efforts as a painter/photographer seem to have informed many of his choices, from the iconic to the lesser known, and it’s the more obscure choices (the Hosoe embrace, the Kertész rooftops, the Abbott tree trunk, the 19th century nudes, the depth of investigation into Brassaï) that signal a willingness to step off the well traveled collecting roads. Overall, there are a total of 117 lots available in the sale, with a Total High Estimate of $3488000.

Here’s the statistical breakdown:

Preview Statistics
Total Low Lots (high estimate up to and including $10000) 40
Total Low Estimate (sum of high estimates of low lots) $254000
Total Mid Lots (high estimate between $10000 and $50000) 59
Total Mid Estimate $1434000
Total High Lots (high estimate above $50000) 18
Total High Estimate $1800000

The top lot by High estimate is lot 11, Diane Arbus, Waitress in a Nudist Camp, N.J., 1963, estimated at $200000-300000 (image above, left, via Christie’s).

Here’s the complete list of photographers with four or more lots in the sale, along with the number of lots on offer:

Multiple Lots For Sale
Brassaï 9
Berenice Abbott 6
Bill Brandt 4
William Klein 4
Eugene Smith 4

Other lots of interest include (images above, via Christies):

Lot 16, Brassaï, Lingerie for Diana Slip, c1933, estimated at $40000-60000

Lot 48, Frederick Sommer, Livia, 1948, estimated at $80000-120000

Lot 54, Julia Margaret Cameron, Stella, Study of Mrs. Herbert Duckworth, 1867, estimated at $70000-90000

Lot 57, Anna Atkins, Mediola Arginica (Bangor, US), 1852-1854, estimated at $15000-25000

Lot 100, Bill Brandt, Nude, St. Cyprien, 1951, estimated at $15000-25000

The complete lot by lot catalog can be found here.

Anna Atkins, Bill Brandt, Brassaï (Gyula Halász), Diane Arbus, Frederick Sommer, Julia Margaret Cameron, Christie's

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