William Eggleston - Photographs New York Thursday, April 8, 2021 | Phillips

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  • "I’ve never felt the need to enhance the world in my pictures, because the world is spectacular enough as it is." —William EgglestonIn 1983 William Eggleston was invited by the estate of Elvis Presley to photograph Graceland, the musician’s grand mansion in Memphis, Tennessee. While Eggleston’s highly-personal, anti-monumental approach to photography made him a counterintuitive choice for the estate, his status as a native Memphian and his deep explorations of the American South made him ideally suited to the project. The resulting images, masterfully rendered in the saturated colors of the dye transfer process, show Eggleston working at the peak of his talents and present a remarkable document of this shrine to an American icon.


    In a 1983 interview, Eggleston recounted that most of the Graceland photographs were made at night, after the crowds had left and he had the run of Presley’s home. Sometimes working the whole night through, Eggleston shot with 35mm and 6-by-9cm cameras as he contended with the technical challenges of photographing exclusively in artificial light in rooms decorated with an abundance of light-baffling mirrors. An even greater challenge was coming to terms with the Elvis myth. Eggleston said, ‘It was so hard to get started. There was something oppressive about the environment, though it was hard to push it all off on Elvis. I got the feeling of “heavy.” You can tell it when you’re walking into some historical site. I knew it was a big theme, but I didn’t know how much’ (The Washington Post, 10 December 1983). Ultimately, Eggleston overcame these challenges to create the brilliant suite of 11 images presented here. Intact portfolios of Eggleston’s Graceland come to auction infrequently; one was last offered in 2013.


    Cover of Eggleston’s 1992 book Ancient and Modern (not in sale)
    Cover of Eggleston’s 1992 book Ancient and Modern (not in sale)

    Elvis Presley (1935-1977) purchased the stately Georgian-style mansion in 1957, after a meteoric rise to stardom made him one of the wealthiest musicians in America. Built in 1939, it sat upon 18 acres of land planted with majestic oak trees and was named for a matriarch of the original owner’s family. Shortly after purchasing it, Presley began a series of renovations that continued through the coming decades, including the ornately decorated interiors and the musically themed exterior iron gates visible in Eggleston’s photographs. Everything was custom-made to Presley’s wishes and the exaggerated opulence of the trappings were in direct contrast to the poverty of his youth. At the age of 13, Presley had moved to Memphis with his family to escape the privations of their lives in Tupelo, Mississippi. Memphis provided his family with a marginally higher quality of life, but also exposed the young man to a broader spectrum of music. Memphis was a hotbed of musical styles and Presley absorbed the sounds of Blues, Gospel, and Country as he developed his own unique musical gifts. He made his first recordings in 1954 at Memphis’s now-legendary Sun Studios. His final recording session, in 1977, was held in Graceland’s den, also known as the Jungle Room and shown in one of the portfolio’s images. Graceland provided a home for Presley and his parents, and later his wife Priscilla and their daughter Lisa-Marie, and served as a gathering place for his extensive retinue. As is clear from Eggleston’s images, Graceland was for Presley both a refuge and a celebration of his achievement.

    • Provenance

      Jackson Fine Art, Atlanta

    • Exhibited

      Southern Exposure: Four Viewpoints, Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, 5 May-31 August 2012, for Untitled (Elvis and Kennedy), Untitled (Graffiti wall), Untitled (Grave) and Untitled (Gate)

    • Literature

      Abbeville Press, New Color/New Work, p. 77
      Hasselblad Center, William Eggleston: The Hasselblad Award 1998, n.p.
      Holborn, William Eggleston: Ancient and Modern, cover, pp. 89-93 and 95
      Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, William Eggleston, pp. 39-40
      Whitney Museum of American Art, William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008, pls. 97, 98, 99, 100, 101 and 102
      Eauclaire, New Color/New Work, pls. 30, 34-41

    • Artist Biography

      William Eggleston

      American • 1939

      William Eggleston's highly saturated, vivid images, predominantly capturing the American South, highlight the beauty and lush diversity in the unassuming everyday. Although influenced by legends of street photography Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eggleston broke away from traditional black and white photography and started experimenting with color in the late 1960s.

      At the time, color photography was widely associated with the commercial rather than fine art — something that Eggleston sought to change. His 1976 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Color Photographs, fundamentally shifted how color photography was viewed within an art context, ushering in institutional acceptance and helping to ensure Eggleston's significant legacy in the history of photography.

      View More Works


William Eggleston's Graceland

Washington, D. C.: Middendorf Gallery, 1984. Eleven dye transfer prints.
Each approximately 14 3/4 x 22 in. (37.5 x 55.9 cm) or the reverse
Each signed in ink, numbered '10,' consecutively numbered '1-11' in an unidentified hand in pencil, date and edition stamps on the verso. Copyright credit on the colophon. Number 10 from an edition of 31 plus 4 artist's proofs. Enclosed in a linen clamshell portfolio case with gilt title.

Full Cataloguing

$180,000 - 280,000 

Sold for $226,800

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Deputy Chairman, Americas



New York Auction 8 April 2021