You don’t have to be rich to be an art collector! This is a long-held belief of Christophe Gœury, an expert in photography who, for more than twenty years, has organized auction sales covering the history of the medium. Some of his noteworthy achievements include the Michel Tournier collection in 2020 and the Brassaï estate in 2006, whose 764 lots sold for a total of 5 million euros. “In addition to these exceptional auctions, I organize sales for young collectors two to three times a year, with pieces that start at 40 or 50 euros: Photographies pour tous [Photographs for All] and Photographies de cinéma pour tous online [Cinema Photographs for All online] since 2012 and 2017, respectively,” he explains.
This makes Christophe Gœury a trailblazer. The success of those sales prompted him, in 2019, to organize a new annual photography event, Paris seen by…, in partnership with the Maison Millon. It takes place on the artprecium.com online sales platform. “I was already organizing sales online before COVID, but ever since the first lockdown, things have definitely accelerated: confined to their homes, people turned to their screens and didn’t hesitate to take the plunge.”
The success is undeniable: as of early February, 62% of the 180 lots in Paris seen by…, had been sold, which is a good percentage, since it is usually around 45-50%. Who are the buyers? “On the one hand, amateurs looking for ‘pleasure’ images to decorate their interior spaces – not necessarily vintage prints, but high quality – and on the other hand, specialists and experts, such as dealers.”
From 40 to 3,310 euros
The cheapest photo sold for 40 euros. It was a 1980s print of a woman selling balloons, taken in a Parisian garden in the 1900s. The most expensive one, which sold for 3,310 euros, was a rare piece from a great photographer, Eugène Disdéri (1819-1889), representing a mythical place in the capital, the Place de la Concorde. “This print is outstanding, not only because it dates from the 1870s, but also because the panoramic shot features three self-portraits,” explains Christophe Gœury.
It’s a fact that Paris is a major classic when it comes to photography, an eternal subject par excellence. What many people especially like are the old images of historical neighborhoods, photos of “what has disappeared,” as well as street scenes or architectural views: bathers, fishermen, or lovers on the banks of the Seine, the bistros, emblematic places such as rue de Rivoli and Place du Tertre in Montmartre. The Eiffel Tower, of course, holds a special place. And yet surprisingly, a shot of the Iron Lady while under construction in 1888 did not find a buyer, while another one showing a visitor at the top sold for 100 euros.
While many of these images are anonymous, others are signed. Among the latter are those of the second generation Séeberger brothers, Jean (1910-1979) and Albert (1914-1999), who took up the torch in the 1930s: we see exterior fashion shots as well as street scenes, like a vegetable seller in front of the Cabaret du Lapin agile in Montmartre.
The 1950s were also in the spotlight, with more celebrity photographers: Willy Ronis (1910-2009) with a signed vintage print depicting a pretty Parisian woman watering her flowers at her window; and Pierre Boulat (1924-1998), with a man putting up a poster of the movie A Streetcar named Desire with the unforgettable Marlon Brando. Mainly black and white, as required for the charm of nostalgia, but not exclusively: also for sale was a shot of the Notre Dame Cathedral engulfed in flames, a color photograph from April 15, 2019 by Gilles Bassignac, which sold for 2,110 euros. Proof that exceptional events also make great photos.
By Sophie Bernard
Sophie Bernard is a journalist specializing in photography, a contributor to La Gazette de Drouot and Le Quotidien de l’Art, a curator and a teacher at EFET in Paris.
More information on Paris Seen By… here.