Richard Avedon - Photographs New York Tuesday, October 1, 2013 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Christie's Paris, 'Photographs from the Richard Avedon Foundation' 20 November 2010, lot 57
    Private Collection, Switzerland

  • Literature

    "The Family", Rolling Stone, October 21, 1976

    Gagosian Gallery, Avedon: Murals and Portraits, pp. 172-173
    Random House, Richard Avedon: Evidence, 1944-1994, pp. 159-160
    Random House, Avedon: The Sixties, pp. 56, 65, 88, 121 and 204
    for various prints illustrated

  • Catalogue Essay

    As an indomitable force in American Photography, Richard Avedon meticulously cultivated a distinct style that seamlessly fused the charmingly natural with the elegantly composed. Throughout a spectacular career that spanned for over half a century, Avedon boldly veered from the status quo—be it freezing the effervescent sparkle in his fashion models’ movement to quietly extracting the essence of his sitters in his studio portraits—patiently building a legacy marked by some of the most defining images of the twentieth-century. It is befitting, therefore, that his subjects were often of great stature themselves, from reigning models to European aristocracy, and as seen in the current lot, American power players.

    The Family was originally commissioned by Rolling Stone in 1976 on the occasion of America’s Bicentennial celebration and in advance of the presidential election. Comprised of sixty-nine prints depicting a diverse cross-sectional overview of the American political milieu, The Family cleverly hints at the interconnected nature of the seemingly disparate professions represented—from President Gerald Ford to the founder of the United Farm Workers Union, Cesar Chavez. Indeed, it is noteworthy that not all of Avedon’s sitters were publically elected officials. In fact, among the sitters were bankers, media trendsetters, corporate executives, publishers, union leaders, and others, alluding to the confluence of forces that contribute to the shaping of the highest office on U.S. soil.

    In keeping with his mantra that “All photographs are accurate, none of them is the truth,” Avedon was not concerned with capturing the likeness of his sitters but their spirit. “A portrait is not a likeness,” Avedon stated. “The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion.” All subjects were photographed against a stark, white background that stripped them of their expected context and associated insignia (oak desks, brass name plaques, paintings of past presidents, to name but a few.) “In a way,” Avedon later commented, “these pictures were almost taken by the people in the pictures. I didn't tell them what to wear. I didn't tell them how to pose. However they presented themselves, I recorded with very little manipulation.” By doing so, nuances in facial expression, posture and dress prominently rise to viewers’ awareness, gently hinting at the sitters’ underlying personalities and idiosyncrasies. Indeed, across the dozens of portraits, viewers are met with a myriad of expressions, from furrowed looks of consternation to gentle grins and broad smiles; an array of poses that range from stiff and self-contained to fluid and insouciant; and a diverse manner in dress, from jeweled haute couture to a soft-collared farmer’s shirt. The longer viewers spend studying the portraits, the more the sitters’ public personas morph into intimate characters, revealing Avedon’s gift in gradually and cleverly peeling the public shell of his sitters.

    In the nearly four decades that have lapsed since The Family was originally created, many of the sitters’ careers would greatly shift. None more so, perhaps, than Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and George Bush, all three of whom would go on to win the American presidency. As a compilation, like a personal family album, Avedon’s iconic The Family stands at the intersection of past and future, commemorating the moments that had come to define an era, and nodding at the many more that were to come.

  • Artist Biography

    Richard Avedon

    American • 1923 - 2004

    From the inception of Richard Avedon's career, first at Harper's Bazaar and later at Vogue, Avedon challenged the norms for editorial photography. His fashion work gained recognition for its seemingly effortless and bursting energy, while his portraits were celebrated for their succinct eloquence. "I am always stimulated by people," Avedon has said, "almost never by ideas." 

    Indeed, as seen in his portraits — whether of famed movie stars or everyday people — the challenge for Avedon was conveying the essence of his subjects. His iconic images were usually taken on an 8 x 10 inch camera in his studio with a plain white background and strobe lighting, creating his signature minimalist style. Avedon viewed the making and production of photographs as a performance similar to literature and drama, creating portraits that are simultaneously intensely clear, yet deeply mysterious.

    View More Works


The Family

New York: Rolling Stone, 1976. Sixty-nine gelatin silver prints.
Each 9 5/8 x 7 5/8 in. (24.4 x 19.4 cm)
Each print signed in stylus on the recto; each signed, numbered 21/25 in pencil, title, edition, copyright credit reproduction limitation and Rolling Stone Bicentennial stamps on the verso. Signed and numbered 21/25 in ink on the cardboard portfolio box. Accompanied by a signed issue of Rolling Stone magazine.

$200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for $341,000

Contact Specialist
Vanessa Kramer Hallett
Worldwide Head, Photographs
+1 212 940 1245


New York 30 September & 1 October 2013