Fashion photography’s leading lights


Fashion photography’s leading lights

Every fortnight Artprice provides you with a new or updated ranking in its Alternate-Friday Top Series. This week we present the top ten auction results generated for fashion photographies in 2011.

The 2011 Top 10 fashion photographers – from an auction revenue perspective – includes the classic trio Irving PENN, Richard AVEDON and Peter LINDBERGH… with Helmut NEWTON not far behind. With hindsight, 2004 was a pivotal year for photography with the death of Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton and, at the same time, an acceleration of auction prices for the entire Contemporary photography segment (post-1950) for which fashion has been a recurrent theme.

Top 10 : ten auction results generated for fashion photographies in 2011

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Irving PENN $409 740 Woman in Moroccan Palace… 11/12/2011 (Christie’s Paris)
2 Richard AVEDON $400 000 Marilyn Monroe, New York City, May 6 04/08/2011 (Christie’s NY)
3 Irving PENN $310 000 Black and White Vogue Cover… 10/04/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Co NY)
4 Irving PENN $300 476 Harlequin Dress 11/12/2011 (Christie’s Paris)
5 Richard AVEDON $260 000 Avedon/Paris 04/06/2011 (Sotheby’s NY)
6 Peter LINDBERGH $152 038 Amber Valletta, New York 11/03/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Co London)
7 Irving PENN $140 000 Black and White Vogue Cover… 04/08/2011 (Christie’s NY)
8 Irving PENN $110 000 Mermaid Dress (Rochas)… 04/08/2011 (Christie’s NY)
9 Irving PENN $110 000 Harlequin Dress 05/02/2011 (Heritage Auctions DALLAS TX)
10 Richard AVEDON $80 000 Nastassja Kinski and the Serpent… 10/04/2011 (Phillips de Pury & Co NY)

Irving Penn

Irving Penn emerged as one of the best fashion photographers ever since his first cover for American Vogue in 1943. He subsequently created 65 covers for the magazine in a career spanning 66 years that revolutionised fashion photography. His favourite model was Lisa Fonssagrives, who became his wife in 1950. A veritable muse for Penn, she became the subject of his most elegant and most sought-after photos from the 1950s. She was also the subject of Penn’s latest auction record this year in Woman in Moroccan Palace (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn) which fetched €300,000 ($409,000) on 11 December 2011 at Christie’s Paris). The same day at the same sale, a photo of Lisa wearing an astonishing black and white check dress (Harlequin Dress) fetched €220,000 ($300,000).
Penn’s first six-figure auction results were recorded in 2005. Since then, sales of his work generate several million dollars each year (2 to 4 million between 2005 and 2008) compared with an annual average of $100,000 at the end of the 1990s. With more than half of the 2011 Top 10 results occupied by Irvin Penn, he was clearly the most sought-after fashion photographer this year.

Richard Avedon
Avedon’s curriculum vitae is impressive after spending twenty year working for Harper’s Bazaar (mostly as photographic director), twenty-five years creating Vogue covers and twelve years at the New Yorker. Richard Avedon had a major impact on fashion photography by injecting strong doses of art and emotion into his work. After his death in 2004, collectors started buying his works with such alacrity that in 2005 his auction revenue was ten times the previous year’s total. His prices shot up nearly 89% between 2004 and 2011. The summit was in 2010 with a record volume of transactions generating close to $7m in auction revenue versus a previous annual record of $2.5m. This week’s Top 10 has Richard Avedon in second position for 2011 on the back of his famous portrait of a terribly melancholic Marilyn Monroe. The photo, taken in 1957, doubled its low estimate fetching $400,000 on 8 April 2011 at Christie’s NY. Despite having been developed much later (1980, edition of 10), this was a record result for a Marilyn Monroe (Marilyn Monroe, New York City, May 6). However this was not his annual record (The Beatles Portfolio – $600,000 on 4 October 2011 at Phillips de Pury & Company) nor his absolute record (Dovima with elephants, 20 November 2010 – €700,000 [$945,000] at Christie’s Paris).

Peter Lindbergh
Prices are rising spectacularly for Peter Lindbergh whose price index is up 116% over the last six years (2004-2011). Compared to Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton or Irvin Penn, his best photos are relatively affordable since he generated his first six-figure result in 2004 (Keith Richards, Man of the Year, New York, $100,000, Phillips de Pury & Company). His auction record is recent (3 November 2011) for an angel in New York City, printed in 230cm x 150cm format (one copy only) and previously exposed at the Bunkamura Museum of Art in Tokyo (1996). Amber Valletta, New York, USA fetched £95,000 ($152,000) at Phillips de Pury & Company. Other prints of the same work exist in fifty centimetre formats for between $10,000 and 20,000 at auction, but considering their rarity (about one a year at auction) the prices could well climb.

Helmut Newton
His early photos taken in the 1930 when he was an adolescent already show the seeds of the main themes of his later work – fashion, women and portraits. Helmut Newton gained public recognition after WWII by publishing in Playboy and various fashion magazines. In the 1970s his clever mix of eroticism and voyeurism, of power and domination, of seduction and deliberate bad taste rapidly contributed to his renown. At auction, he crossed the $10,000 threshold in 1992 and the $100,000 threshold in 2002 with his most famous diptych, Sie Kommen, Paris (Naked and Dressed), depicting four dressed models in one shot and naked, in the same poses, in the second. In 2002, the diptych work fetched $160,000 at Sotheby’s (17 April, NY). Six years later, it generated the artist’s record of $550,000 (Christie’s NY on 16 December 2008).
However, in 2011 he appears at the bottom of the Top 10 rather than at its top with a best result of just $55,000 for his Tied up torso, Ramatuelle, at Christie’s Paris on 12 November (10 prints, 1980).
Like Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton died in 2004. Since then, his price index has climbed a modest 35% compared with Avedon’s 89% progression on the back of a substantially more limited volume of works in circulation. Indeed, in photography, rarity is indeed a primary factor in valuations (number of original prints / number of subsequent prints, etc.).