Sold! That Glorious Portfolio of Nudes from the Roaring 20s Fetched $2,860 at Swann

 

M38002-1_2 001

Update: The 1925 Albert Arthur Allen portfolio of nudes sold for $2,860.

 

What you see: An image from The Model, Series No. 1, a 1925 portfolio of 15 photographs shot by Albert Arthur Allen. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

 

The expert: Daile Kaplan, vice president and director of photographs and photobooks at Swann Auction Galleries.

 

What do we know about the photographer, Albert Arthur Allen? He was born in Grafton, Mass., in 1886, and his family moved to California in the early 20th century. Apparently, his father was a businessman in the maritime industry and a man of means. Allen was an artistic figure who relied on his family’s financial resources. As far as I know, he was fairly isolated and had no associations with other Bay Area artists. As a young man, Allen became interested in art and, by the late 1910s, was producing Pictorialist images—lovely photographs of young women in natural settings. Many were hand-colored, and the long-haired subjects have a fresh, natural appearance. By about 1919, he started photographing nude models in the studio, against a black backdrop. With the rise of the Roaring 20s, Allen’s aesthetic changed, and he began to shoot in residential and studio settings and also create fanciful tableaux, such as the ones we see in The Model. An entrepreneur, he sold his pictures via ads in newspapers and art publications. But sending nude studies through the mails, especially those in which women’s pubic hair was clearly visible, was illegal. Allen was the target of numerous suits and, by the end of the 1920s, went bankrupt.

 

The photo I’m using to illustrate the piece is the group of seven women in profile, six with their left hands on the shoulder of the woman in front of her. What, specifically, would a 1925 audience have found scandalous about this photo? What details that don’t jump out at us now would have scandalized viewers then? Sadly, we’re now living in a social and political period that illustrates the ways in which women are considered second-class citizens. In 1925, there was a more relaxed atmosphere in the U.S., one that fostered new cultural and artistic expressions. But the appearance of a nude female form was considered quite scandalous. In this picture, Allen has softly airbrushed the models’ pubic areas, but did not eliminate this “pornographic” feature. And the notion of women touching one another was certainly perceived as a Sapphic-like expression.

 

Sapphic-like? What made it Sapphic-like? Is it that the women are nude and touching each other–is that enough? Exactly, exactly. We have to look at the pictures from American social history–Puritan influences, Comstock influences. [Anthony Comstock was a U.S. postal inspector who championed a namesake law that made sending “obscene” material through the mail a crime.] These pictures, as innocent as they are to us, are very loaded.

 

How do these images exemplify 1920s beauty and style? The models’ shorter, more androgynous hairdos are the most visible sign of a 1920s liberated woman. And the slimmer body types also epitomize the “new woman.”

 

What jumped out at me was how normal these women look–not the super-thin models who predominate today. You’re right. They’re not the emaciated women of the last 10 to 15 years. They are curvaceous, and they have breasts. They’re active and healthy. Victorian women [by contrast] wore corsets and had full hips.

 

All of the women have short hair. Would all of their hairstyles have been described as “bobs” then? Are these women flappers? Yes and yes. My understanding is that “flapper” relates to a dance or performance, and these models are definitely active.

 

Was it legal for Allen to shoot these photos in California in 1925? It was legal for Allen to shoot these photographs, but it was illegal for him to utilize the U.S. Postal Service to convey them to clients.

 

How did he find seven young women who would agree to be photographed nude? Allen paid his models for their time and effort. I was told by a dealer of nude studies that, in some instances, some of these young women were pregnant. Finding work was challenging and modeling was an available occupation.

 

Do we know who any of the women are? None of the women are identified by name. Allen was more focused on representing “types,” and his other portfolios include loopy quasi-scientific texts in which he unsuccessfully attempts to articulate complex ideas associated with gender.

 

Beneath each woman in the photo there’s a letter, from A through G. Do we know what the letters mean? Does it reflect Allen’s attempt to represent “types” of women? I believe the letters may correspond to text information that’s not included in this particular portfolio.

 

Can we assume that the women had no input in the composition of any of the images—this is all Allen’s vision? My sense is that Allen was responsible for composing these marvelous tableaux. But given that he worked in California, it’s not unlikely that some of these models had experience in Hollywood or with dance troupes, and contributed ideas.

 

Did he shoot the images for Model, Series No. 1 in his Oakland, California studio prior to it burning down in 1925? There’s very little biographical information about Allen that has survived. When I was working on my book, I consulted with a number of Allen collectors, one of whom hired a detective to try to learn more about this colorful and mysterious figure. But I imagine he rented a theatre–note the size of the stage and the large backdrop.

 

Does the title Model, Series No. 1 imply that he intended to produce sequel portfolios, but never managed to do so? Allen was a grandiose figure with larger-than-life ambitions who innocently–and inadvertently–took on the conservative, political establishment. The legal actions were costly and time consuming. He did not manage the production of these portfolios with any business acumen or organizational skills. I imagine he intended to develop other versions of The Model, but as far as I know, he didn’t.

 

I understand Allen was indicted for sending obscene materials through interstate mail—would a copy of this portfolio have triggered those charges? Allen was drawing the ire and attention of federal authorities before this particular portfolio was photographed. Remember Comstock’s chastity law and America’s Puritan origins? Well, despite the cultural shift and appearance of free women in the 1920s, these repressive precepts continued to dictate social mores.

 

Some suggest that Allen’s work is seen as campy now. Do you agree? What makes it campy? Some of the pictures may conform to the idea of camp, which is seen as bad taste. But my perspective is that Allen was positing interesting forms of photographic representation that are still valid. Allen’s artistic program falls apart in his so-called scientific analysis, introducing terms like “sexine,” and attempting to formulate correspondences between body types and personality traits. He wasn’t an Edward Weston, but his sensibility certainly corresponds to someone like William Mortensen, the most popular photographer of the 1930s.

 

Erm, what does “sexine” mean? It’s a word he invented. It seems to be some obscure concept he had to characterize a woman who was not a virgin, but had not had children. Was it a sense of purity? I don’t know. But it was something odd.

 

Do we know how many of these portfolios were made, and how many survive? Unfortunately, Allen did not edition his portfolios or maintain records of the number of portfolios he sold.

 

How often does The Model, Series No. 1 come up with all 15 photos in place?  How many have you handled? This portfolio is offered every few years; it’s rare to find a suite with the entire 15 photographs. The last time Swann offered a complete set was in 2009, when it sold for $3,600. Swann has handled four copies, one of which contained 10 prints, since 2001.

 

What is the auction record for The Model, Series No. 1? $8,400, which was realized on October 15, 2007.

 

What condition is this copy in? Excellent. Clearly, the images were respected and well-taken-care-of. They weren’t handled a lot. But I want to back up and give you background on the folio. It was consigned by a woman whose great-grandfather collected this material. When family members come to us after discovering nude photos, there’s a kind of shock that they readily, openly convey to us that grandfather had this in the attic. There was no Playboy magazine in 1925. There weren’t any magazines that depicted male and female nudes except nudist magazines. Where did collectors get them? Allen advertised in the printed matter you’d see in barber shops or mens’ clubs.

 

Might that explain why we don’t know how many copies Allen made of The Model, Series No. 1? Maybe it wasn’t in his best interest to keep accurate records of how many he printed? Perhaps at a certain point he was advised to destroy his records. The legal battle went on and on. It’s possible he intentionally didn’t keep records.

 

Why will this portfolio stick in your memory? Of Allen’s various projects, I would deem this particular portfolio the most successful. These particular images are fun and celebratory and epitomize the spirit of the Roaring 20s. The photographs depict women who are comfortable in their bodies, have an athletic verve, and are enjoying one another. There’s also the obvious correspondence between photography and cinema, an interdisciplinary dialog that’s culturally rich.

 

How to bidThe Model, Series No. 1 portfolio is lot 68 in Artists & Amateurs: Photographs & Photobooks, which takes place at Swann on October 18, 2018.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Swann Auction Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

 

Daile Kaplan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about an exceptional circa 1921 print of Lewis Hine’s Powerhouse Mechanic, a record-setting Edward Curtis portrait of the Oglala Lakota leader, Red Cloud, and a print of Harold Edgerton’s Milk Drop Coronet.

 

Kaplan’s 2001 book on Albert Arthur Allen’s nudes, Premiere Nudes, is available at the Strand book store and other independent booksellers.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

 

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

It’s No Humbug! Sotheby’s Sold That 1851 Daguerreotype of P.T. Barnum for $25,000

9919 lot 141

Update: The 1851 P. T. Barnum daguerreotype sold for $25,000.

 

What you see: An 1851 daguerreotype of Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum in its original metal case, shot in Cincinnati, Ohio by Thomas Faris. Sotheby’s estimates it at $20,000 to $30,000.

 

The expert: Emily Bierman, head of the photography department at Sotheby’s.

 

Where was Barnum in his career in 1851? He was already very well-established by this time. He made his first mark in the 1830s when he invested in a woman named Joice Heth, who was said to be 136 years old and the nurse of George Washington. That was his first humbug, as he’d call it. He discovered Charles Stratton, General Tom Thumb, in the 1840s. By 1850 and 1851, he set his sights larger than America. He was bringing acts from Europe to the United States. [Swedish singer] Jenny Lind was unknown [in America] until Barnum invested in her. It’s hard to equate the campaign to a modern campaign for an artist. He invested $150,000 in her and borrowed heavily to pay her costs up front. He ended up selling more than $700,000 in tickets. [Both numbers reflect 1850s dollar amounts, not contemporary updates.] He was clearly successful at this point.

 

Did Barnum have any daguerreotypes taken of Jenny Lind at the same time? Yes. There’s a portrait of Jenny Lind at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. and one in the Cincinnati Art Museum. She returned to Cincinnati at the end of 1851 [so the photo may have been shot during her second 1851 visit]. Barnum was in Cincinnati from April 14 to April 22, 1851. Faris’s studio was right around the corner from where Lind performed and the hotel they were staying at. Everything was very walkable.

 

This is the second daguerreotype of Barnum to come to auction. Does that imply that he rarely sat for photos? Most of what exists is [dated] a little bit later, or they’re paper photos made after daguerreotypes or etchings. In his own writing about himself, he was not someone who talked about sitting for artists or photographers. His museum burned down twice, and his mansion, I’m pretty sure it burned down twice as well [implying that other photos of Barnum might have been lost to fire]. But in his 1854 autobiography, there’s a frontispiece that an artist made after a daguerreotype of Barnum. Barnum didn’t seem to retain any copyright. The fact that he allowed his image to be used any which way says he embraced photography.

 

Faris’s services would not have come cheap, and it’s hard to imagine Barnum paying a premium to have a photo shot of himself alone, rather than with one of his performers, which he could use to promote his shows. Why might he have sat for this daguerreotype? Faris may well have solicited the opportunity to photograph Barnum. An artist who’s recently had a notable figure in their studio is an advertisement in an age when they didn’t have digital advertising. Who you photographed was your calling card. I don’t know what the expense would have been for a portrait, or what the finances would have been. When the tickets were sold for the Lind tour, they were by public auction. They was a block of less expensive tickets for the masses, but others paid several hundred for tickets. In the Philly leg, [a high sum was bid] by a daguerreotypist who clearly wanted to have an in with Lind or Barnum.

 

How do we know the daguerreotype shows P. T. Barnum? There are several identifying clues to the sitter’s identity. Most interesting is the tie tack with the starburst design on it. That same design was worn by Barnum in the best-known images of him, in his autobiography and in another photo from 1951 known as a later cabinet card. [The image at the top of Barnum’s Wikipedia page shows him wearing the starburst tie tack.] Then, of course, the face. The enlarged ears and certain heavyset wrinkles are also great clues. He’s generally shown clean-shaven, but not exclusively. It’s hard to speculate why he preferred one style over another. His hair, through his life, was rather unruly and was something he did not address. Especially above his ears, he has great wavy curls even through to when he was an older man.

 

This is described as a quarter plate daguerreotype. How big is a quarter plate? It’s four and a half inches by three and one-quarter inches, cut down from a whole plate that measured eight and a half inches by six and a half inches. In the printed catalog, we reproduce the daguerreotype at actual size. It would lay quite well in your hand.

 

What is the daguerreotype like in person? To hold a really great daguerreotype in person is to have a world of detail available to you. You can see the texture of his jacket, the folds of his clothing, and you can make out individual hairs on his head. The clarity is really hard to render in a digital format. It comes to life when you have it in front of you. You really see him looking back at you.

 

How to bid: The Barnum daguerreotype is lot 141 in the Photographs sale taking place October 3, 2018 at Sotheby’s.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Sotheby’s is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

 

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

A Glorious Portfolio of Nudes from the Roaring 20s Could Command $6,000 at Swann

M38002-1_2 001

What you see: An image from The Model, Series No. 1, a 1925 portfolio of 15 photographs shot by Albert Arthur Allen. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

 

The expert: Daile Kaplan, vice president and director of photographs and photobooks at Swann Auction Galleries.

 

What do we know about the photographer, Albert Arthur Allen? He was born in Grafton, Mass., in 1886, and his family moved to California in the early 20th century. Apparently, his father was a businessman in the maritime industry and a man of means. Allen was an artistic figure who relied on his family’s financial resources. As far as I know, he was fairly isolated and had no associations with other Bay Area artists. As a young man, Allen became interested in art and, by the late 1910s, was producing Pictorialist images—lovely photographs of young women in natural settings. Many were hand-colored, and the long-haired subjects have a fresh, natural appearance. By about 1919, he started photographing nude models in the studio, against a black backdrop. With the rise of the Roaring 20s, Allen’s aesthetic changed, and he began to shoot in residential and studio settings and also create fanciful tableaux, such as the ones we see in The Model. An entrepreneur, he sold his pictures via ads in newspapers and art publications. But sending nude studies through the mails, especially those in which women’s pubic hair was clearly visible, was illegal. Allen was the target of numerous suits and, by the end of the 1920s, went bankrupt.

 

The photo I’m using to illustrate the piece is the group of seven women in profile, six with their left hands on the shoulder of the woman in front of her. What, specifically, would a 1925 audience have found scandalous about this photo? What details that don’t jump out at us now would have scandalized viewers then? Sadly, we’re now living in a social and political period that illustrates the ways in which women are considered second-class citizens. In 1925, there was a more relaxed atmosphere in the U.S., one that fostered new cultural and artistic expressions. But the appearance of a nude female form was considered quite scandalous. In this picture, Allen has softly airbrushed the models’ pubic areas, but did not eliminate this “pornographic” feature. And the notion of women touching one another was certainly perceived as a Sapphic-like expression.

 

Sapphic-like? What made it Sapphic-like? Is it that the women are nude and touching each other–is that enough? Exactly, exactly. We have to look at the pictures from American social history–Puritan influences, Comstock influences. [Anthony Comstock was a U.S. postal inspector who championed a namesake law that made sending “obscene” material through the mail a crime.] These pictures, as innocent as they are to us, are very loaded.

 

How do these images exemplify 1920s beauty and style? The models’ shorter, more androgynous hairdos are the most visible sign of a 1920s liberated woman. And the slimmer body types also epitomize the “new woman.”

 

What jumped out at me was how normal these women look–not the super-thin models who predominate today. You’re right. They’re not the emaciated women of the last 10 to 15 years. They are curvaceous, and they have breasts. They’re active and healthy. Victorian women [by contrast] wore corsets and had full hips.

 

All of the women have short hair. Would all of their hairstyles have been described as “bobs” then? Are these women flappers? Yes and yes. My understanding is that “flapper” relates to a dance or performance, and these models are definitely active.

 

Was it legal for Allen to shoot these photos in California in 1925? It was legal for Allen to shoot these photographs, but it was illegal for him to utilize the U.S. Postal Service to convey them to clients.

 

How did he find seven young women who would agree to be photographed nude? Allen paid his models for their time and effort. I was told by a dealer of nude studies that, in some instances, some of these young women were pregnant. Finding work was challenging and modeling was an available occupation.

 

Do we know who any of the women are? None of the women are identified by name. Allen was more focused on representing “types,” and his other portfolios include loopy quasi-scientific texts in which he unsuccessfully attempts to articulate complex ideas associated with gender.

 

Beneath each woman in the photo there’s a letter, from A through G. Do we know what the letters mean? Does it reflect Allen’s attempt to represent “types” of women? I believe the letters may correspond to text information that’s not included in this particular portfolio.

 

Can we assume that the women had no input in the composition of any of the images—this is all Allen’s vision? My sense is that Allen was responsible for composing these marvelous tableaux. But given that he worked in California, it’s not unlikely that some of these models had experience in Hollywood or with dance troupes, and contributed ideas.

 

Did he shoot the images for Model, Series No. 1 in his Oakland, California studio prior to it burning down in 1925? There’s very little biographical information about Allen that has survived. When I was working on my book, I consulted with a number of Allen collectors, one of whom hired a detective to try to learn more about this colorful and mysterious figure. But I imagine he rented a theatre–note the size of the stage and the large backdrop.

 

Does the title Model, Series No. 1 imply that he intended to produce sequel portfolios, but never managed to do so? Allen was a grandiose figure with larger-than-life ambitions who innocently–and inadvertently–took on the conservative, political establishment. The legal actions were costly and time consuming. He did not manage the production of these portfolios with any business acumen or organizational skills. I imagine he intended to develop other versions of The Model, but as far as I know, he didn’t.

 

I understand Allen was indicted for sending obscene materials through interstate mail—would a copy of this portfolio have triggered those charges? Allen was drawing the ire and attention of federal authorities before this particular portfolio was photographed. Remember Comstock’s chastity law and America’s Puritan origins? Well, despite the cultural shift and appearance of free women in the 1920s, these repressive precepts continued to dictate social mores.

 

Some suggest that Allen’s work is seen as campy now. Do you agree? What makes it campy? Some of the pictures may conform to the idea of camp, which is seen as bad taste. But my perspective is that Allen was positing interesting forms of photographic representation that are still valid. Allen’s artistic program falls apart in his so-called scientific analysis, introducing terms like “sexine,” and attempting to formulate correspondences between body types and personality traits. He wasn’t an Edward Weston, but his sensibility certainly corresponds to someone like William Mortensen, the most popular photographer of the 1930s.

 

Erm, what does “sexine” mean? It’s a word he invented. It seems to be some obscure concept he had to characterize a woman who was not a virgin, but had not had children. Was it a sense of purity? I don’t know. But it was something odd.

 

Do we know how many of these portfolios were made, and how many survive? Unfortunately, Allen did not edition his portfolios or maintain records of the number of portfolios he sold.

 

How often does The Model, Series No. 1 come up with all 15 photos in place?  How many have you handled? This portfolio is offered every few years; it’s rare to find a suite with the entire 15 photographs. The last time Swann offered a complete set was in 2009, when it sold for $3,600. Swann has handled four copies, one of which contained 10 prints, since 2001.

 

What is the auction record for The Model, Series No. 1? $8,400, which was realized on October 15, 2007.

 

What condition is this copy in? Excellent. Clearly, the images were respected and well-taken-care-of. They weren’t handled a lot. But I want to back up and give you background on the folio. It was consigned by a woman whose great-grandfather collected this material. When family members come to us after discovering nude photos, there’s a kind of shock that they readily, openly convey to us that grandfather had this in the attic. There was no Playboy magazine in 1925. There weren’t any magazines that depicted male and female nudes except nudist magazines. Where did collectors get them? Allen advertised in the printed matter you’d see in barber shops or mens’ clubs.

 

Might that explain why we don’t know how many copies Allen made of The Model, Series No. 1? Maybe it wasn’t in his best interest to keep accurate records of how many he printed? Perhaps at a certain point he was advised to destroy his records. The legal battle went on and on. It’s possible he intentionally didn’t keep records.

 

Why will this portfolio stick in your memory? Of Allen’s various projects, I would deem this particular portfolio the most successful. These particular images are fun and celebratory and epitomize the spirit of the Roaring 20s. The photographs depict women who are comfortable in their bodies, have an athletic verve, and are enjoying one another. There’s also the obvious correspondence between photography and cinema, an interdisciplinary dialog that’s culturally rich.

 

How to bidThe Model, Series No. 1 portfolio is lot 68 in Artists & Amateurs: Photographs & Photobooks, which takes place at Swann on October 18, 2018.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Swann Auction Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

 

Daile Kaplan previously spoke to The Hot Bid about an exceptional circa 1921 print of Lewis Hine’s Powerhouse Mechanic, a record-setting Edward Curtis portrait of the Oglala Lakota leader, Red Cloud, and a print of Harold Edgerton’s Milk Drop Coronet.

 

Kaplan’s 2001 book on Albert Arthur Allen’s nudes, Premiere Nudes, is available at the Strand book store and other independent booksellers.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

 

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

It’s No Humbug: Sotheby’s Could Sell an 1851 Daguerreotype of P.T. Barnum for $30,000

9919 lot 141.jpg

What you see: An 1851 daguerreotype of Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum in its original metal case, shot in Cincinnati, Ohio by Thomas Faris. Sotheby’s estimates it at $20,000 to $30,000.

 

The expert: Emily Bierman, head of the photography department at Sotheby’s.

 

Where was Barnum in his career in 1851? He was already very well-established by this time. He made his first mark in the 1830s when he invested in a woman named Joice Heth, who was said to be 136 years old and the nurse of George Washington. That was his first humbug, as he’d call it. He discovered Charles Stratton, General Tom Thumb, in the 1840s. By 1850 and 1851, he set his sights larger than America. He was bringing acts from Europe to the United States. [Swedish singer] Jenny Lind was unknown [in America] until Barnum invested in her. It’s hard to equate the campaign to a modern campaign for an artist. He invested $150,000 in her and borrowed heavily to pay her costs up front. He ended up selling more than $700,000 in tickets. [Both numbers reflect 1850s dollar amounts, not contemporary updates.] He was clearly successful at this point.

 

Did Barnum have any daguerreotypes taken of Jenny Lind at the same time? Yes. There’s a portrait of Jenny Lind at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. and one in the Cincinnati Art Museum. She returned to Cincinnati at the end of 1851 [so the photo may have been shot during her second 1851 visit]. Barnum was in Cincinnati from April 14 to April 22, 1851. Faris’s studio was right around the corner from where Lind performed and the hotel they were staying at. Everything was very walkable.

 

This is the second daguerreotype of Barnum to come to auction. Does that imply that he rarely sat for photos? Most of what exists is [dated] a little bit later, or they’re paper photos made after daguerreotypes or etchings. In his own writing about himself, he was not someone who talked about sitting for artists or photographers. His museum burned down twice, and his mansion, I’m pretty sure it burned down twice as well [implying that other photos of Barnum might have been lost to fire]. But in his 1854 autobiography, there’s a frontispiece that an artist made after a daguerreotype of Barnum. Barnum didn’t seem to retain any copyright. The fact that he allowed his image to be used any which way says he embraced photography.

 

Faris’s services would not have come cheap, and it’s hard to imagine Barnum paying a premium to have a photo shot of himself alone, rather than with one of his performers, which he could use to promote his shows. Why might he have sat for this daguerreotype? Faris may well have solicited the opportunity to photograph Barnum. An artist who’s recently had a notable figure in their studio is an advertisement in an age when they didn’t have digital advertising. Who you photographed was your calling card. I don’t know what the expense would have been for a portrait, or what the finances would have been. When the tickets were sold for the Lind tour, they were by public auction. They was a block of less expensive tickets for the masses, but others paid several hundred for tickets. In the Philly leg, [a high sum was bid] by a daguerreotypist who clearly wanted to have an in with Lind or Barnum.

 

How do we know the daguerreotype shows P. T. Barnum? There are several identifying clues to the sitter’s identity. Most interesting is the tie tack with the starburst design on it. That same design was worn by Barnum in the best-known images of him, in his autobiography and in another photo from 1951 known as a later cabinet card. [The image at the top of Barnum’s Wikipedia page shows him wearing the starburst tie tack.] Then, of course, the face. The enlarged ears and certain heavyset wrinkles are also great clues. He’s generally shown clean-shaven, but not exclusively. It’s hard to speculate why he preferred one style over another. His hair, through his life, was rather unruly and was something he did not address. Especially above his ears, he has great wavy curls even through to when he was an older man.

 

This is described as a quarter plate daguerreotype. How big is a quarter plate? It’s four and a half inches by three and one-quarter inches, cut down from a whole plate that measured eight and a half inches by six and a half inches. In the printed catalog, we reproduce the daguerreotype at actual size. It would lay quite well in your hand.

 

What is the daguerreotype like in person? To hold a really great daguerreotype in person is to have a world of detail available to you. You can see the texture of his jacket, the folds of his clothing, and you can make out individual hairs on his head. The clarity is really hard to render in a digital format. It comes to life when you have it in front of you. You really see him looking back at you.

 

How to bid: The Barnum daguerreotype is lot 141 in the Photographs sale taking place October 3, 2018 at Sotheby’s.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Sotheby’s is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

 

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

SOLD! Albert Einstein’s 1935 Passport Photo Commands $17,500 at Bonhams

24754931-1-2

Update: The 1935 Albert Einstein passport photo sold for $17,500.

 

What you see: A passport photograph of Albert Einstein, signed and dated May 30, 1935, along with a piece of paper signed and dated by Einstein and featuring a brief goodbye note in German from Einstein’s son-in-law, Dmitri Marianoff. Bonhams estimates it at $8,000 to $12,000.

 

Who was Albert Einstein? He was one of the greatest scientists who ever lived. He came up with the theory of relativity, which upended the fields of theoretical physics and astronomy. He also composed the formula E = mc2 [energy equals mass times the speed of light, squared], which has come to symbolize science and, to some extent, genius itself. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 for his work in theoretical physics. After Hitler and the Nazis took over Germany, Einstein, who was Jewish, settled in the United States, gaining citizenship in 1940. A 1939 letter he sent to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sparked the creation of the Manhattan Project, the scientific endeavor that led to nuclear weapons. He based himself in Princeton, New Jersey, where he died in 1955 at the age of 76.

 

The expert: Ian Ehling, director of books and manuscripts at Bonhams.

 

Has anything else Einstein-related come to auction that’s similar to this passport photo? Have you seen any other 1930s passports or immigration paperwork connected to Einstein? Not that I know of. I’ve only come across a Swiss passport of his dating back to 1923. This particular photo was always in the possession of the consigner. The way it was was in the 1930s, Einstein was already in the United States. He was working in Princeton, New Jersey, and he decided not to return to Germany. In order to apply for citizenship, you had to be outside the country. So he took his family on a trip to Bermuda and got the ball rolling there. He used a different image on his passport. After Bermuda, I think they came through Ellis Island in New York and turned in their paperwork.

 

How does the fact that the passport photo dates to the 1930s–when the Nazi regime was imposing anti-Semitic policies on its citizens, convincing Einstein to leave–add to its value? It’s a huge factor in its value. [The choice that the passport photo represents] is just an awesome moment to witness. It was a turning point–a man of the world applying for U.S. citizenship. It represents the very first step [toward that]. This is a very close witness to things that were on his mind at the time.

 

And he would have sat for the photo in Bermuda? Yes. You can’t tell, but he’s wearing a leather jacket in the photo. In the formal portrait on the paperwork, he’s wearing something else.

 

Wait, was Einstein wearing THE leather jacket in this photo? The one that Levi Strauss & Co won at Christie’s London in 2016 for $147,000? It’s a leather jacket, but we can’t see enough to say it’s THE leather jacket.

 

And this is fresh to market? Yes. It comes directly from the person who received it. She was a little girl [at the time], the granddaughter of the innkeeper [at the guest house where Einstein stayed in Bermuda]. She was 13 years old, and she was curious. She engaged Einstein in conversation. He signed and dated the photo and gave it to her, and she kept it all her life. She’s in her nineties now, and she’s decided to sell. I don’t think it was ever published or anything like that.

 

How did you arrive at an estimate for this? It’s a gut feeling. I feel the photo is incredibly important. It reflects on him becoming a U.S. citizen. The estimate reflects its historic significance.

 

How have you seen the market for Einstein material change over time? In the 1930s, he was already famous. The photo definitely had value back then. But the Einstein market has changed significantly. I can’t say Einstein items are rare. He would get lots of letters, and he spent a good deal of time every day answering them. The most significant ones are the manuscripts where he talks about scientific things, and certain items that he owned. For example, he was very interested in music and performing with friends; we sold his violin in March 2018 for $516,500. The passport photo is a more iconic thing. Einstein was at a turning point in his life, deciding to become a U.S. citizen. It’s signed and dated, and it shows him the way you expect him to look like. He didn’t get a haircut before the picture was taken.

 

Why is Einstein the most sought-after scientist at auction? He had the most brilliant mind in physics since Newton, and on top of that, he was not a nerdy scientist. He was incredibly approachable. He didn’t just follow scientific interests. He played the violin, he went sailing, he was someone who enjoyed life.

 

Why will this Einstein passport photograph stick in your memory? The personal connection. It shows him being open and approachable and talking to a 13-year-old girl in Bermuda. And it’s consigned directly by that person. It’s special. It’s two degrees of separation–the consigner, and then Einstein. That’s what makes it so beautiful and significant.

 

How to bid: The Einstein passport photograph is lot 76 in Bonhams‘s June 12, 2018 Fine Books and Manuscripts sale in New York.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

 

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SOLD! An Exceptional Circa 1921 Print of Lewis Hine’s Powerhouse Mechanic Fetched $81,250 at Swann Auction Galleries

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Update: Lewis Hine’s Mechanic at Steam Pump in Electric Power House sold for $81,250.

What you see: Lewis Hine’s Mechanic at Steam Pump in Electric Power House, a photograph printed circa 1921. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $70,000 to $100,000.

Who was Lewis Hine? He was an American photographer who used his camera to document society in hopes of changing it for the better. He captured images of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island; child laborers in Southern cotton mills; and the workers who constructed the Empire State Building. Hine died in 1940 at the age of 66.

Where does Mechanic at Steam Pump in Electric Power House rank among Hine’s most iconic images? “It’s probably one of his most important, if not his most important. It’s a significant photo,” says Daile Kaplan, vice president of photographs and photobooks at Swann Auction Galleries.

Why is it such a strong image? “The visual appeal of the photo is rather direct and stunning,” she says. “It has harmony, it has visual balance, and at the same time, he positions the worker in a way that he’s controlling the machine. It reflects a new visual vocabulary that addresses the machine age, but it privileges the person with the machine.”

To what extent did Hine shape the appearance of this image? “The idea of the photographer arranging the subject is to some extent, to me, a specious issue,” she says. “Hine used a Graflex camera, a handheld camera that predated the 35 mm camera. It had technical aspects that may elude the 21st century viewer. The images are not easy to make. The Graflex is not a cell phone camera. It’s not on a tripod. It’s made of wood. It’s heavy. In all likelihood, flash powder was required for illumination. The image appeared in ground glass, upside down. It takes a bit of mental acuity just to frame the photograph. There were very different handling issues. Capturing an image in an informal manner was extremely difficult with a Graflex camera.”

Hine made several attempts at photographing a laborer using a wrench on a machine. Why did this particular one succeed so well? “The elements of the machine are writ large in this image, and the physicality of the laborer is very beautifully defined. And it shows how prescient Hine was,” she says, noting that he shot the image around 1921, when the phrase “machine age” was yet to be coined. “He was essentially visualizing a cultural idea, and was at the forefront of articulating it in a pictorial fashion. He understood and saw the trend before it was verified or confirmed.”

This print was made circa 1921–exceptionally early. Just how rare is it? “This is a very rare, very rare print, a stunning image,” she says, noting that it’s the first she’s handled a Mechanic photograph of this vintage. “In the body of work he produced during this time, it’s uncommon to find a stamp by Lewis Hine [the stamp mark reads ‘Hine’s Interpretive Photography, Hastings-on-Hudson’]. It’s extremely uncommon and rare and it has all the beauty of the finest photographs.”

There was no collectors’ market for photographs in 1921, and there wouldn’t be one for at least 50 years. Why might Hine have had this print made then? “Photographers are always making prints from their negatives,” she says. “Sometimes they give them to their family members or colleagues. He was important in the social welfare community, the progressive community. Undeniably, he would have been proud of this image. This picture is a real winner.”

Are there other prints of this image made at later dates? “I’ve seen others, but nothing as beautiful as this,” she says.

What makes this print so beautiful? “The detail, the clarity, the ability to coax out the middle tones of the black and white–I think this print really sings. It stands alone,” she says. “It’s in excellent condition. It’s a stunning representation of the image, and the print itself is gorgeous.”

Why else will this Hine photograph stick in your memory? “It’s such a privilege to handle a photograph like this. In some ways, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Kaplan says. “I’ve published two books about Lewis Hine. It’s an extraordinary privilege.”

Is it the finest Lewis Hine photograph you’ve ever handled? “When you work in an auction house, everything you handle is your baby,” she says, laughing. “Let’s say I recognize the integrity and the value of this image.”

How to bid: Lewis Hine’s Mechanic at Steam Pump in Electric Power House is lot 60 in Swann’s Icons & Images: Photographs & Photobooks sale on February 15, 2018.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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SOLD! This Casually Perfect 1951 Henri Cartier-Bresson Shot From Italy Fetched $30,000–Double Its High Estimate–at Phillips

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Update: Cartier-Bresson’s Scanno, L’Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy sold for $30,000–double its high estimate.

 

What you see: Scanno, L’Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy, a photograph that Henri Cartier-Bresson shot in 1951. This gelatin silver print was made later, however. Phillips estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

 

Who was Henri Cartier-Bresson? Born in France, he was the king of the candid photographers, and he’s regarded as a father of street photography. He co-founded Magnum Photos, a cooperative photojournalists’ agency, in 1947. His images of the funeral of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948 cemented his reputation. He died in 2004 at the age of 95.

 

Do we know anything about the lead-up to this photo–how long Cartier-Bresson stood there, and how many other photos he might have taken at this spot? “Here, he’s standing at the top of the stairs. For Cartier-Bresson, he would sometimes stay for a few minutes. He wouldn’t have stayed for a long amount of time. He would shoot and keep walking,” says Rachel Peart, specialist and head of sale for Phillips. “Cartier-Bresson was famous for not wanting to crop his photos afterward. He was very deliberate about what he put in his lens.” Subsequent research of auction records revealed a few iterations of the image appearing for sale in the late aughts and early teens.

 

I look at this photo and it reminds me of a game of Jenga–pushing the boundaries of how much can you add before the whole thing topples and falls apart… “I think that’s what makes Cartier-Bresson such a great photographer,” she says. “When it comes to composing an image, it’s technically perfect. The railings lead your eye through the picture plane and also divide it. He continued to draw throughout his lifetime, and the fundamentals of composition are evident in all of his work.”

 

How does this 1951 image illustrate Cartier-Bresson’s concept of “the decisive moment” in photography? “It’s not something he staged or posed. He waited for the moment when everything lined up,” she says. “Here we have the women going about their day. He was able to freeze the moment and hold them in time.”

 

Why was he in the Italian town of L’Aquila in 1951, and where was he in his career by then? “He was on assignment for Harper’s Bazaar,” Peart says. “He had founded Magnum by this point, he was on assignment for many publications, and he was very much a household name.”

 

This image was printed after 1951, but probably before the rise of the formal secondary market for photography. Why would he have had it done? “What we predominantly see in the Cartier-Bresson market are later prints, and after 2004, none are made–there are no posthumous prints,” she says, noting that Cartier-Bresson never did the actual printing himself, but he did supervise and approve the output. “A lot of them would have been printed for collectors or for exhibitions. Unless people requested the image, he didn’t make prints of them. There are other pictures of his that you see at auction more frequently [because people asked for them].”

 

How many prints of Scanno, L’Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy were made? It’s hard to tell. Perhaps 30 exist in the 17 5/8 inch by 11 3/4 inch size, and one of them fetched $10,625 at Christie’s in 2011. A similar image taken from the same vantage point and printed at a smaller size has appeared at auction at least twice (the name of the photo is not standardized, which makes it difficult to confirm how often it and its variants have gone to auction). One sold in June 2015 at Westlicht, a Viennese auction house specializing in photographs and vintage cameras for €4,800 ($5,400), and the other sold at Swann Galleries in November 2016 for $6,500.

 

The lot notes say the photo was acquired directly from the artist. But acquired by who? The consigner is Peter Fetterman, who runs an eponymous photography gallery in Santa Monica, California. “He was working directly with Cartier-Bresson as a dealer and it turned into a friendship,” she says. “He would buy from Cartier-Bresson and for himself as well. There’s one Sam Tassa portrait of Henri Cartier-Bresson, but otherwise, they’re all from Peter Fetterman, who got them directly from Henri.”

 

Why is Fetterman selling these photographs now? “Cartier-Bresson is obviously an artist he loved and very much respected, and he loved building the collection. But he felt it was the right time to put it out into the world,” Peart says.

 

What else makes this Cartier-Bresson image special? “It’s Henri Cartier-Bresson doing what he does best, taking this moment from a town in Italy and making it so compositionally dense and rich,” she says. “You can revisit his images over and over, and this one really epitomizes that.”

 

How to bid: Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Scanno, L’Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy is lot 37 in Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Eye of the Century, taking place at Phillips New York on December 12.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Phillips.

 

A note: In 2009, L’Aquila was near the epicenter of an earthquake that measured as high as 5.9 on the Richter scale. It killed more than 300 people and damaged thousands of buildings. It’s unclear if the vista that Cartier-Bresson captured in 1951 survives, but it was pretty much intact in 2008. More than seven years after the quake, the Italian city is still recovering from its effects.

 

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