Richard Avedon‘s famous “Dovima with the Elephants” set an elephantine record when it fetched €841,000 ($1,148,910) at Christie’s Paris on Saturday. A bidding war in the auction room gave way to a telephone duel between two bidders, with a representative for fashion house Dior winning the prized photograph. This sale more than doubles Avedon’s previous auction record of $457,000 for “Marilyn Monroe, May 6, 1957, New York City,” set in 2008.
The 65-lot sale totaled €5.5 million ($7.5 million) and featured many rare and stunning photos by the artist. Every lot found a purchaser, with many rocketing beyond their estimated prices. Most buyers were European or American, with a mix of dealers and private collectors taking part. A significant portion of the proceeds will go to fund the late photographer’s philanthropic foundation.
In the iconic record-setting image, Dovima — a model and frequent collaborator of Avedon’s — wears a Dior dress designed by Yves Saint-Laurent, a fact that drove the fashion house to acquire it at any cost. Christie’s photography head Matthieu Humery told ARTINFO France, “I think it is the most expensive photo ever sold in Europe,” adding that, “it’s good that this work won’t leave France. In a way, it’s a national treasure.” After being seen in the Avedon retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1978, the large 1955 print hung in the photographer’s studio until his death.
Among other highlights of the sale, “The Beatles Portfolio” — a series of psychedelic Beatles portraits that once held the record price for a photo series — sold for €455,000 ($609,500), handily surpassing its high estimate of €350,000 ($478,000). After a bidding war propelled a photo of Suzy Parker and Robin Tattersall roller-skating on the Place de la Concorde far beyond its high estimate of €35,000 to €217,000 ($297,000), the room burst into applause.
The portrait “Picasso, April 1958″ also started with a €35,000 high estimate and reached €97,000 ($133,000). From a high estimate of €10,000, Avedon’s self-portrait reached a price of €103,000 ($141,000). The last lot of the evening, it was also the only one to have attracted the highest bid via the Internet.
The catalog cover shows a 1957 portrait of Marilyn Monroe that fetched €169,000 ($231,500). Though the star wears a gorgeously revealing sequined dress, her face looks vacant and lonely and her arms hang at her sides. In Avedon’s fascinating reflections on the photo session from the catalog notes, he described Marilyn Monroe as “a genius invention that she created like an author creates a character.” In the studio, she danced and performed for hours, and then, Avedon recalled, “she sat in the corner like a child with everything gone. But I wouldn’t photograph her without her knowledge of it. And as I came with the camera, I saw that she was not saying no.”