NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Sales of nearly $10 million of photographs, including works by Irving Penn, at Christie's showed that international collectors are willing to pay top dollar for rare images.
The Penn photographs, the largest collection of his work to be sold at auction, were given to his personal assistant Patricia McCabe over 30 years. They fetched $3.8 million of the $9.3 million from three auctions.
"What we realized even in the recession is that there really is quite a strong market for the right sort of material," said Laura Paterson, of the photography department at Christie's, adding that works that are rare, important and have great provenance sell whether the market is good or bad.
Penn's photographs of objects and people are visually simplistic but they convey a deeper story. Often in black and white, the images beg for deeper observation.
Broken Egg, New York, 1959 was a surprise hit, fetching $206,500 after an original estimate range of $7,000 to $9,000. Paterson said it showed that placing a price tag on rare photographs is not an exact science.
"I think it speaks to kind of the Penn market generally, which was strong -- strong last season immediately after his death ... His prices are going to remain extremely strong. Everything was very fiercely competed over," she said.
Penn's 2 Guedras, which sold for $314,500, was the highest selling photograph from the photographs given to McCabe.
"What was really nice about the collection, and I think reflected in these prices, was the condition of these prints and how beautiful they were. We see the image a lot in platinum and it's not an uncommon photograph. But these images were absolutely beautiful, in great shape. So not only do they have the provenance, they have perfect condition," Paterson added.
Penn's Woman in Moroccan Palace from a separate private collection sold for $446,500.
French photographer Eugene Atget's Joueur d'Orgue set the world auction record with a sale price of $686,500 during the two-day sale last week.
The auction bodes well for Christie's next big auction of fine art photography which will be held in New York in October.
"We choreograph our sales very carefully, so we will be looking for material that we think will do equally well and create just as much excitement. The market clearly gave all of the houses a signal by responding warmly to rare and important things," Paterson said.
Reporting by Bernard Orr; Editing by Patricia Reaney