Auction Results: Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection Parts I and II, November 9 and 10, 2022 @Christie’s

The news from the sale of the collection of former Microsoft founder Paul Allen last week at Christie’s have been all over the headlines, with the $1.5B of proceeds from the Evening sale alone and the $100M+ outcomes for the paintings by Seurat, Gauguin, Cezanne, Klimt, and Van Gogh garnering most of the attention. But for the photography market, the result for the Edward Steichen 1904 print of the Flatiron building was quite a bit more intriguing. Against an estimate of $2M-3M, the print soared to an outcome of $11.84M, taking second place on the all time list of highest priced photographs, behind the $12.4M price for a 1924 print of Man Ray’s Le Violon d’Ingres from earlier this May.

While all of the usual factors seem to have lined up perfectly on the Steichen (provenance, rarity, condition, size etc.), even together, they wouldn’t seem to drive the market to such heights. One hypothesis to explain the frothy price is that the success of the Man Ray sale psychologically reanchored the market at a higher level, thereby legitimizing such prints in eyes of crossover collectors from the adjacent worlds of contemporary art, as well as those who specialize in Surrealist and Modernist works, who now better see these photographs as integral to the wider art historical stories they are interested in. Thus these photographic trophies broaden their potential audience, and the prices can go much higher.

The rest of the Allen sale had another handful of photographs on offer, which performed more unevenly, all finding buyers, but many below their estimate ranges. When the dust settled, the Total Sale Proceeds for photography (across both sales) came in at $13.23M, far above the aggregate pre-sale estimate range of $4.92M.

The summary statistics are below (all results include the buyer’s premium):

Summary Statistics
Total Lots 7
Aggregate Pre Sale Low Estimate $3190000
Aggregate Pre Sale High Estimate $4920000
Total Lots Sold 7
Total Lots Bought In 0
Buy In % 0.00%
Total Sale Proceeds $13232300

Here is the breakdown (using our typical Low, Mid, and High definitions):

Detailed Breakdown
Low Total Lots 0
Total Low Lots Sold NA
Total Low Lots Bought In NA
Low Buy In % NA
Aggregate High Estimate of Low Lots $0
Total Proceeds from Low Lots $0
Mid Total Lots 1
Total Mid Lots Sold 1
Total Mid Lots Bought In 0
Mid Buy In % 0.00%
Aggregate High Estimate of Mid Lots $50000
Total Proceeds from Mid Lots $195300
Total High Lots 6
Total High Lots Sold 6
Total High Lots Bought In 0
High Buy In % 0.00%
Aggregate High Estimate of High Lots $4870000
Total Proceeds from High Lots $13037000

The top photography lot by High estimate was lot 4, Edward Steichen, The Flatiron, 1904/1905, estimated at $2000000-3000000; it was also the top photography outcome of the sales at $11840000 (image above, via Christie’s.)

Just 42.86% of the lots that sold had proceeds in or above the estimate range and there were a total of 3 positive surprises in the sales (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate) (images above, via Christie’s):

Lot 4, Edward Steichen, The Flatiron, 1904/1905, estimated at $2000000-3000000, sold at $11840000

Lot 158, Andreas Gursky, Bibliothek, 1999/2014, estimated at $180000-250000, sold at $604800

Lot 164, Irving Penn, 12 Hands of Miles Davis and His Trumpet, New York, July 1, 1986, 1986/1988, estimated at $30000-50000, sold at $195300

The complete lot by lot results can be found here (Part I) and here (Part II).

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Read more about: Andreas Gursky, Edward Steichen, Irving Penn, Christie's

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