Berenice Abbott - Photographs New York Wednesday, October 11, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Berenice Abbott made this portrait of author James Joyce in 1926, during her lengthy and eventful sojourn in Paris that involved working as Man Ray’s studio assistant, starting her career as a professional photographer, and befriending the aging photographer Eugéne Atget, whose estate she would ultimately acquire. Abbott was commissioned to photograph Joyce in 1926, shortly after she had left Man Ray’s employ, by Sylvia Beach, owner of the bookstore Shakespeare and Company and publisher of Joyce’s modernist masterpiece Ulysses. Abbott’s enthusiasm for Ulysses was such that she read it several times, exclaiming ‘Why bother to read anything else?’


    Abbott photographed the Irish ex-patriate writer in his apartment at 2 Square Robiac. Joyce suffered from a degenerative eye condition and his extreme sensitivity to light posed a challenge for the photographer. Nonetheless, working with available light, Abbott produced a number of fine portraits during the session; in some Joyce wears his eyepatch, in this image he holds  his glasses and eyepatch in his right hand. Portraits from this session were shown in the June 1926 exhibition of her work at Au Sacre Printemps gallery, Exposition Bérénice Abbott: Portraits photographiques


    This print bears the stamp of her 44 rue du Bac studio, indicating that it was made before early 1928 when she relocated to rue Severandoni. It comes originally from thecollection of noted bibliophile James Gilvarry whose holdings were rich in Joyce books and manuscripts. 

    • Provenance

      Christie's, New York, Modern Literature from the Library of James Gilvarry, 7 February 1986, lot 407
      Private collection
      Sotheby's, New York, 27 April 2005, lot 39

    • Literature

      O’Neal, Berenice Abbott: American Photographer, p. 43


James Joyce

Gelatin silver print.
9 1/4 x 6 7/8 in. (23.5 x 17.5 cm)
Signed, dated, and annotated 'Paris' on the recto; '44 Rue du Bac Paris' and '1 W. 67th St., N.Y.C.' credit stamps on the verso.

Full Cataloguing

$20,000 - 30,000 

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs


Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 11 October 2023