Alfred Le Petit - Photographs New York Tuesday, April 4, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Best known as a French political caricaturist during the reign of Napoleon III, Alfred Le Petit was a highly subversive figure whose artwork exemplified his deep commitment to anti-censorship causes. In addition to his drawing and painting work, Le Petit also maintained a robust photographic practice, which has proven to be of equal significance to his oeuvre. In this image, Le Petit photographed himself disrobed in a boldly self-possessed fashion. The undeniable impact of this image is made all the more remarkable by the fact that depictions of the male nude in photography’s earliest decades were exceedingly rare. This self-portrait coincides with the beginning of his photographic endeavors, which took place over two distinct periods. From 1860-1870, he created a collection of self-portraits, as well as portraits of bohemians, bear-tamers, and young vagabonds. Later, from 1876-1895 he began photographing beggars, working folk, as well as his family.


    Lots 31 through 41 in this auction come from the collection of celebrated curator Pierre Apraxine (1934-2023). Gifted with an eye peculiarly attuned to photography, Pierre expanded the historical canon of the medium and embodied an enthusiastic appreciation for those masterpieces created by unsung or anonymous photographers. He was one of the principal architects of the photography world that exists today, and his impact extends from museums to the market. Over the course of his long career, Pierre also built a small and select personal collection that included Design objects and Photographs. It is Phillips’ distinct pleasure to present offerings from his collection.


    From 1976 to 2007 Pierre was the art curator for the Gilman Paper Company headed by the late Howard Gilman. There he assembled several collections of contemporary painting and sculpture, but he will best be remembered for his creation of the Company’s photography collection. Pierre built the Gilman photography collection in consultation with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, filling gaps and building upon strengths in the Museum’s holdings. Today, the collection that Pierre built is one of the pillars of the Museum’s photography holdings. The material was first shown at the Metropolitan in 1993 the landmark exhibition, The Waking Dream: Photography's First Century, and Pierre was a principal author of the accompanying lavish exhibition catalogue.


    Born in Estonia and educated in Belgium, Pierre Apraxine came to America in 1970 as a Fulbright Scholar to work at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Besides The Waking Dream, Pierre curated several exhibitions for the Metropolitan, among them La Divine Comtesse: Photographs of the Countess de Castiglione in 2000, and A Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult in 2005. He is also the author, with the master-printer Richard Benson, of Photographs from the Collection of the Gilman Paper Company (1985), and Leon Tolstoi: Photographies de Sophie Tolstoi (1993). In 2001 he was curator in charge of the installation of Gustave Le Gray at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, the first retrospective exhibition in France of this major figure of early photography. In 2005 he was made Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Republic.


    In person, Pierre was unfailingly courteous and reliably generous in sharing his vast knowledge, his gentle humor, and his warmth of spirit.

    • Provenance

      Beaussant & Lefèvre, Paris, 10 October 2003, lot 77
      Serge Plantureux, Paris, early 2000s

    • Literature

      Céros/Librairie Plantureux, Alfred le Petit, photographe "maudit": négatifs commentés, cover (positive variant), p. 8 (this negative)

Photographs from the Collection of Pierre Apraxine


Self portrait in the nude

early 1860s
Glass collodion negative.
4 5/8 x 3 1/4 in. (11.7 x 8.3 cm)

Full Cataloguing

$5,000 - 7,000 

Sold for $6,350

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 4 April 2023