Over two days on 10 and 11 November Sotheby’s Paris will present two Photographs sales : the various-owners Photographs auction followed by a major European collection: “Photographs from Atkins to Warhol”.

With works spanning the history of the medium, the sales offer outstanding highlights from the 19th century to the the mid-20th century (see separate press release). The catalogue opens with the sale of the Collection of Emile Charles Labbé, which reveals a remarkable collaboration between the photographer Ernest de Caranza and the painter Emile Charles Labbé. A genuine travel diary, these extraordinarily high-quality photographs record the two artists epic journey to Mount Athos (modern-day Greece) in 1853.

Although the existence of these photographs were known, they have remained within the same family for over 150 years, and are now a remarkable discovery. 2 The sale continues with a major French Surrealist collection consisting of 17 lots, including works by Raoul Ubac, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Hans Bellmer and photographs from André Kertész’s “Distortions” series. A major figure in avant-garde photography, the artist earned the admiration of artists like Man Ray and Brassaï with this legendary series. The session ends with a section of magnificent contemporary photographs by Richard Avedon, William Eggleston, Francis Alÿs, Rashid Rana, Thomas Ruff, Desiree Dolron, Hiroshi Sugimoto. The sale catalogue includes some of their masterpieces, now iconic photographs. Collection of Emile Charles Labbé (1820 – 1885).

This collection consists of an album of 87 cardboard-backed salt prints and a series of around 150 positives on salt and albumen paper, together with 144 negatives on waxed paper. Divided into 10 lots, classified by region in chronological order, these works take us on a photographic journey to the monastic state of Mount Athos in the middle of the 19th century.

The Orientalist painter Emile Charles Labbé began travelling to the East in 1840. In 1852, he offered his services to the Sultan of Constantinople to decorate his palace after he met Ernest de Caranza, an engineer who became the official photographer to the Sultan’s court. When Sultan Abdülmecid I gave his approval, the two men started out on a photographic journey to Mount Athos on 20 September 1853. Labbé’s account of the journey in his letters and the numbered negatives enable us to follow the two travellers’ progress up to 9 November, the date of their return. The outstanding lot in this collection is indisputably the album entitled “Turquie, Couvents Grecs, Mont Athos”, which contains 87 prints into a red shagreen folder with the Sultan Abdülmecid I “Tughra” (lot 1, estimate: €50,000-70,000). In remarkable condition, this collection is an extremely rare discovery for 19th -century photography. Already in 1856, the newspaper La Lumière had said that “Mr Caranza’s collection remains one of the finest memorials to photography.” A major French Surrealist collection Lovers of Surrealism will be keen to discover a major French collection consisting of 17 prints dedicated, among others, to André Kertész, a major figure in the interwar photography scene.

A selection of works from his Distortions series will be up for sale. 3 In 1933, the artist was commissioned with a series of nude photographs for the men’s magazine Le Sourire. Influenced by Surrealism, he sought to play with appearances. For this series, he used fairground mirrors, whose convex or concave shapes deformed the bodies of the women models posing nude in front of them. Kertész then took the process further by cropping the images, concentrating on the deformed and “distorted” bodies alone. Grotesque yet erotic figures subjected to Surrealistic transformations, these nudes typifying a singular photographic concept were met with considerable success.

In the photograph “Distortion #134” (lot 21, estimate: €20,000-30,000), the woman’s body is barely recognisable and induces an unsettlingly uncanny feeling, while in “Distortion #44” the theme is totally abstract and the human body seems to have disappeared (lot 26, estimate: €10,000-15,000). Contemporary photographs All the contemporary photographs from various owners include leading names from within and outside France, including Hiroshi Sugimoto, Eric Poitevin, Francis Alÿs, Rashid Rana, Florian MaierAichen, Thomas Ruff and Désirée Dolron Another masterpiece, “Brigitte, Xteriors IV” by Désirée Dolron (lot 75, estimate: €50,000-70,000) belongs to a series of photographs produced between 2001 and 2006, inspired by the Flemish Old master paintings. “James Story, Coal Miner” (lot 74, estimate: €70,000-100,000) is a portrait from the celebrated “In the American West” series, which Richard Avedon took in 1979 when he left New York City to explore the Western states.

The composition of these portraits and the treatment of their subjects make them icons of photography. The sale of this masterpiece echoes the exhibition at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, “La France d’Avedon: Vieux monde, New Look” (October 2016 – February 2017). William Eggleston, who was celebrated by the National Portrait Gallery in a 2016 exhibition entitled “William Eggleston Portraits”, will also be in the spotlight. A chronicler of the everyday world, he has captured the environment of his native city in “Untitled – Memphis” (lot 67, estimate: €150,000-200,000). The work is striking for the powerful simplicity of a commonplace scene, and for the ordinary yet captivating appearance of the woman in the foreground.

 Photographs Auctions: Thursday 10 November/Friday 11 November.

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