Various Photographers - Photographs New York Tuesday, April 4, 2023 | Phillips

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  • The photographers responsible for the celestial works in this lot are unknown except for astronomer Percival Lowell, who created A Suite of 9 Studies Intending to Show the Canals on Mars. As early as 1895, he theorized the existence of 'Martian canals,' an advanced irrigation system developed by extraterrestrial beings and a supposed extension upon the work of Italian scientist Giovanni Schiaparelli who wrote of 'deep trenches' across the planet's surface. Lowell subsequently built the Lowell Observatory to support his research endeavors. Despite his belief that his images displayed the Martian canals, what Lowell really captured was decidedly less enthralling. Due to his errant arrangement of his telescope and camera, the pictures actually show the astronomer's optical blood vessels and other aspects of his retina.


    Lots 30 through 40 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

      Acquired from Denis Canguilhem, early 2000s

    • Catalogue Essay

      The photographs included in this lot are as follows:

      A Suite of 9 Studies Intending to Show the Canals on Mars, circa 1890 by Percival Lowell
      The Solar Surface, circa 1890
      Imagined Passage of Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus in Front of the Sun, circa 1900
      Wooded Landscape with Aurora Borealis, circa 1890

Photographs from the Collection of Pierre Apraxine


Selected Astronomical Studies

1890s-early 1900s
Ten albumen prints, 9 framed together, and 2 gelatin silver prints, one with applied pigment.
Various sizes from 4 x 4 in. (10.2 x 10.2 cm) to 7 x 5 in. (17.8 x 12.7 cm)
Variously annotated in ink and pencil in unidentified hands, one mounted and extensively captioned in ink on the mount.

Full Cataloguing

$2,500 - 3,500 

Sold for $5,080

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 4 April 2023