Colin Gleadell gears up for the Irving Penn sale with this look at the photographer’s market:
Although he was 92 and had presided over a steady and successful career, there are still editions of Penn’s prints that he made 30 years ago which have not sold out from his studio. Those editions are now, therefore, more limited than anticipated, and thus more valuable.
And, if there is one thing that has propped up Penn’s market over the years, it is the knowledge that, since the 1960s, these editions have been strictly policed by the artist. Once the numbers come to an end, there will be no more – no later prints, no larger or smaller ones, as is the case with many other photographers. With some exceptions in his early prints, buyers know exactly how many are out there, and that supplies confidence to the market. […] The turning point for Penn’s auction market, as it was for a whole gamut of mid- and later-20th-century fashion photographers, was Christie’s sale of the Elfering collection in October 2005, in which Woman in a Moroccan Palace, Penn’s photograph of his wife, the model Lisa Fonssagrives, sold for $307,000, three times the previous record for Penn at the time.
Another version of the same print (estimate: $300,000 to $500,000) is now the star lot in a series of photography sales in New York next week, where there have never been so many Penns on the market. Seventy-nine works at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips de Pury carry an overall value of between
$2 million and $3 million.