Richard Avedon - Photographs New York Wednesday, October 1, 2014 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist
    Stephen Wirtz Gallery, San Francisco

  • Literature

    Avedon, Richard Avedon: Portraits, n.p.
    Avedon, An Autobiography, pl. 214
    Random House, Richard Avedon: Evidence 1944-1994, pp. 56, 161

  • Catalogue Essay

    "My portraits are more about me than they are about the people I photograph."
    -Richard Avedon

    Richard Avedon’s portraits, set against a stark white backdrop, are lauded for their ability to convey the core of Avedon’s subjects, their being. The portraits, therefore, are far more than a static tracing of physical likeness. Rather, they are akin to a fingerprint that bears the unequivocal genetic code of the sitter without relying on any clichéd characteristics. Essence, therefore, takes precedence over matter, and spirit trumps resemblance. This could underline Avedon’s assertion that “All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.” In that regard, for Avedon a photograph is not about capturing an absolute reality but rather whatever the subject has chosen to project in front of the lens. “A photographic portrait is a picture of someone who knows he is being photographed,” Avedon said, “and what he does with this knowledge is as much a part of the photograph as what he's wearing or how he looks.”

    The current work presents Irish artist Francis Bacon, renowned for his deeply raw and expressive portraits. Bacon’s own subjects were largely of friends, peers and loved ones, from Lucian Freud to George Dyer and John Edwards, all rendered in the same immediately recognizable style, their faces often partially smeared with distorted strokes. Yet in addition to the portraits of his loved ones, Bacon also created a number of self-portraits. “I loathe my own face,” he confessed four years before Avedon’s portrait was taken. “I’ve done a lot of self-portraits, really because people have been dying around me like flies and I’ve nobody else left to paint but myself.” As such, self-portraits became a reminder of loss, or in other words, studies of the emotions that ensue—from grief to sadness to confusion and a host of others affiliated with bereavement. It is befitting, therefore, that he posed for Avedon, with his own penchant for undeniably—even if subtly—expressive portraits.

    The dual portrait format is in keeping with Bacon’s preference for sequential studies of his own subjects. In the left frame Bacon appears to intently stare into the lens, his mouth a little agape, his brow scrunched into a deep furrow, his skin marked by grooves and crevices that allude to his biographical canyons. He fully returns the viewers’ gaze, one eyebrow lifted as if caught mid-sentence, surprised. His engagement is ineluctable. The right frame depicts him standing further back, his left hand partially over his mouth, his look introspective. The cropping in this frame strategically places Bacon in partial view, as if hiding behind his own portrait on the left side. By doing so, Avedon may have intended to present two versions of Bacon: one of the public figure—up close and almost confrontational, the other more private and pensive as it recedes in the background. Indeed, the lot is a portrait of a deeply emotional sitter and famously astute photographer.

    Other prints of this image are in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

  • 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


Francis Bacon, artist, Paris, April 11

Gelatin silver print.
40 x 63 in. (101.6 x 160 cm)
Signed, numbered 9/10 in pencil, copyright credit reproduction limitation, title, date and edition stamps on the verso.

$120,000 - 180,000 

Sold for $209,000

Contact Specialist
Vanessa Kramer Hallett
Worldwide Head, Photographs

Shlomi Rabi
Head of Sale, New York

General Enquiries:
+1 212 940 1245


New York Auction 1 October