La Gazette Drouot
Enchères - La Collection Brassaï
The eye of Brassai: €5 M
Three world records were announced during these two days, when the biggest collection of the artist's work ever offered for public sale was dispersed.

The measure of success of the Brassai sales can be summed up straight away by a figure: the €5, 086,736 including costs fetched by the 639 lots sold of the 764 presented (83.64 % in terms of number, 94.65 % in value). Taken from the collection of the artist's widow, Gilberte, who died last year, this collection of works by Brassai contained a selection of photographs, drawings and sculptures. Give honour where honour is due: photography, representing the lion's share, aroused the most enthusiasm from art-lovers, and only twenty-four prints found no takers. The world record for a photograph by Brassai was set: €85,000 for a vintage print of Les Pavés. This went to an American buyer who had lived in France, the previous highest bidder being French. This legendary picture was used to illustrate the cover of Paris la nuit, the first album of the artist's photos, published in December 1932. According to Christophe Goeury, "The whole of Brassai is contained in this photo". An opinion clearly shared by the bidders! A tireless pacer of the streets of Paris, like Henry Miller, who gave him the nickname of "The eye of Paris", Brassai took shot after shot, day and night alike, of the most splendid views and the most obscure little streets.  The eighty-eight photos tracing his peregrinations went for a total of €864,500. The aforementioned Pavés of the world record naturally belong to this collection. Brassai himself used the word "underground" to designate the dregs of society in the depths of the night who mobilised the bidders. The forty-two pictures of prostitutes and crooks fetched €426,300. The celebrated Môme Bijou (17.5 x 23.5 cm), c. 1930-1932, in a vintage print, fetched a dazzling €41,000 compared with a high estimate of €8,000. Christophe Goeury stresses the fact that this was a working image transformed by Brassai: "He liked it; he had it pinned to his wall." An annotation on the back indicates that the negative was lost. Brassai's nudes were eagerly awaited because of their rarity. The forty-two prints on offer, showing models either entirely nude or partially clothed, depending on the circumstances, fetched a total of €628,100. They included the "Transmutations", which alone accounted for €247,000. In this series, Brassai engraved the negatives, thus mingling photography and drawing. The model's body disappears completely in Gravure 9, fille de joie se déshabillant, transmutation 6 (29.5 x 39.5 cm), a print dating from around 1967, numbered 6/6 and printed by Claudine Sudre from a negative of 1934-1935, which went for €46,000 – five times the estimate. The previous one in the series, which reveals the face and part of the body, Gravure 8, odalisque, transmutation 3 (29.5 x 39.5 cm), went for €34,000. Numbered 4/6, this was also printed by Claudine Sudre. These two prints belong to a series especially intended for the exhibition entitled "Brassai cet homme" staged in 1967 by the Les Contards Gallery at Lacoste in the Vaucluse. All in all, the series contains twelve engravings in limited editions of six. Brassai also took many photographs of his artist friends and their studios. The eighty-four pictures on this theme obtained a total of €318,600, of which a good third in value (twenty-six in number), i.e. €131,600, concerned Picasso. To read the painter's palm, it required €20,000 for a print of around 1960 of the Moulage de la main de Picasso (26 x 39 cm), a photo taken in around 1943. Showing the artist sitting by a furnace worthy of a modern Vulcan's forges, Picasso, rue des Grands Augustins (38.5 x 50 cm), taken in around 1939, in an exhibition print of around 1950, went for €13,000.

€103,298 (prices include buyer’s premium).
Brassai (1899-1984), Les Pavés,
c.1931, vintage print no. 3/3, 14.5 x 21.7 cm.
World record for a photograph by the artist.
€206,897 (prices include buyer’s premium).
Brassai (1899-1984), Graffiti I, c. 1968, tapestry cartoon composed of 23 photographs cut up and assembled, mounted on wooden panel, with black gouache highlights. 140 x 170 cm. World record for a work by the artist.
© Estate Brassai/RMN
An absolute world record of €170,000
An absolute world record of €170,000 was set for a work by Brassai, thanks to the competition between two French collectors for Graffiti I (reproduced), the original cartoon of around 1968 for a tapestry entitled La Harpie. It consists of twenty-three photographs cut up and assembled, mounted on a wooden panel. It was estimated at €100,000 at the highest. A single copy of the tapestry was woven by the Yvette Cauquil-Prince workshop in Paris. The eleven pre-emptions exercised during these two days of auction were for the Centre Pompidou, the City of Paris and the Musée National d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris. An exhibition print dating from 1960 of a Nu (48 x 40.5 cm) of around 1933 was bought for €25,000.
Catalogue /
471 pages / 764 lots described and reproduced. / Weight: 2.3 kg.
4,500 copies printed (including 500 numbered) and boxed.

Auction / Three sessions over two days.
Overall estimate / €1.8 to €2.5 M.
Total of sale / €5.08 M (prices include buyer’s premium).
Lowest bid / €400.
Highest bid / €170,000.
On the Net / Four buyers obtained lots on eBay, which relayed the auction live
Monday 2 and Tuesday 3 October 2006. Drouot-Montaigne.
Millon & Associés auction house. Mme Ritzenthaler, Mssrs. Goeury and Sonnenberg
La Gazette Drouot N°35 - 13 octobre 2006 - Sylvain Alliod
€33 420 (prices include buyer’s premium).
Brassaï (1899-1984),
Self-portrait. 52 x 21 cm.
Records for
humanist artists  

Robert Doisneau:
€184,959 (prices include buyer’s premium), Le Baiser de l’hôtel de ville, 1950, silver halide print. 18 x 24.6 cm. 25 April 2005, Paris, Artcurial-Briest-Poulain-Le Fur-F. Tajan auction house.

€103,298 (prices include buyer’s premium), Les Pavés (see opposite).

Willy Ronis:
€19,930 (prices include buyer’s premium), Paris (Auto tamponneuses), 1953, silver halide print. 50 x 50 cm. 13 November 2004, Paris, Artcurial-Briest-Poulain-Le Fur-F. Tajan auction house.

€10,500, La Pluie, 1930, silver halide print. 30.2 x 24 cm.
15 April 2003., Paris, Calmels-Cohen auction house, Atelier Breton.

Edouard Boubat:
£4,800 (prices include buyer’s premium)
(€6,982), Première Neige, Luxembourg, Paris, January, 1956, silver halide print. 34.8 x 23.3 cm. 17 May 2005, London, Sotheby’s

Janine Niepce:
€4,837 (prices include buyer’s premium), Deux Grands Amateurs de Tintin, 1952, silver halide print. 47.8 x 40.7 cm. 13 November 2004, Paris, Artcurial-Briest-Poulain-Le Fur-F. Tajan auction house.
(source: Artnet)