Photography Auction Sales: 2017 Review

Not only was 2017 a very good year overall for exhibitor sales and public attendance at Photo London, it proved to be a very positive year for the photography sector at international auction sales. With reports from the three major houses Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips across New York, London and Paris inclusively, the first half of the year raised $19,297,765, showing an increase of 21.9% from the second half of 2016, and the highest total since the first half of 2015. While in the second half of 2017, $29,382,116 was raised, representing an increase of 52.3% from the first half of the year, and the highest total since the second half of 2014. Strong auction sales in the second half of 2017 meant that dedicated photography sales for last year were up a confident 54% from 2016 based on total sales from the three houses.

Christie’s showed a stable market share of total sales by reporting 31.8%, the second strongest in the first half of 2017, and the largest volume of 48.3% in the second half of the year – which amounted to a hefty value at $14,201,199.

Phillips performed in a similar fashion, opening 2017 with auction sales of $9,309,779 accounting for 48.2% of total sales value. However, in the latter six months this share decreased to 28.6% leaving them second place behind Christie’s.

In comparison, Sotheby’s sufficed with the smallest shares in both halves accounting for 19.9% and 23.1% respectively. By December 2017, Sotheby’s had reported the smaller share for the sixth time in a row.

When it comes to what was selling, it is an increasingly more balanced outlook than previous years, which of course bodes well for Photo London’s curatorial approach. In the first half of 2017, modern photography raised a decent tag of $8,018,546, and this increased to a whopping $11,476, 327 with a market share of 39.1% in the second half.

Contemporary photography took 28.2% in the first half and this dropped slightly to 22.8%, while vintage came in at 30.2% in the first six months to increase latterly to healthy 38.1%. What we can see from this report is that there is still as expected a very sturdy appreciation for vintage and modern works, illustrated below in the two lists of top sellers for each half of the year. Likewise, contemporary is starting to show signs of growth albeit remaining around a quarter of the overall market share, and this is similarly reflected in the top sellers with artists like Thomas Struth and Philip-Lorca diCorcia being present.

When it comes to May 2018, the Fair will be keeping a close eye on how contemporary continues to perform, but for the most part it is very encouraging to see so many names represented at Photo London bringing in such confident prices at the auction houses. There is no doubt that the market for photography is on the rise and the year ahead looks very promising.


First Half

1. Edward Weston ‘Nude, 1925’ – $726,250 Christie’s

2. Ansel Adams, ‘Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, California, 1938’ – $466,250 Christie’s

3. Diane Arbus ‘Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, NYC, 1962’ – $426,250 Christie’s

4. John Baldessari ‘Transform (Lipstick)’ – $377,886 Phillips

5. Ansel Adams ‘Aspens, Northern New Mexico, 1958’ – $366,250 Christie’s

6. Timothy O’Sullivan ‘Photographs showing landscapes, geological and other features’ – $298,000 Sotheby’s

7. Helmut Newton ‘Eiffel Tower’ – $278,800 Sotheby’s

8. Edward Weston ‘Dunes, Oceano, 1936’ – $240,000 Sotheby’s

9. Robert Mapplethorpe ‘Tulips’ – $238,400 Phillips

10. Helmut Newton ‘Private Property Suites I, II & III, 1984’ – $227,718 Christie’s


Second Half

1. Man Ray ‘Noire et Blanche, 1926’ – $2,784,307 Christie’s

2. Irving Penn ‘The Hand of Miles Davis (B), New York, 1986’ – $2,323,726 Christie’s

3. Edward Weston ‘Betty in Her Attic, 1920’ – $600,000 Christie’s

4. Peter Beard ‘Orphaned Cheetah Cubs, Mweiga, near Nyeri, Kenya, March 1968’ – $550,000 Christie’s

5. Diane Arbus ‘Identical Twins, Roselle, NJ, 1966’ – $524,242 Christie’s

6. Paul Strand ‘Rebecca, New York, 1923’ – $400,000 Christie’s

7. Philip-Lorca diCorcia ‘A Storybook Life (The Complete Series)’ – $380,000 Sotheby’s

8. Thomas Struth ‘Mailander Dom (Fassade), Mailand’ – $370,000 Sotheby’s

9. Edward Weston ‘Dunes, Oceano, 1936’ – $350,000 Christie’s

10. Philip Haas ‘John Quincy Adams’ – $300,417 Sotheby’s


*All sales values do not include buyer’s premium


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