Yakov Yakovlevich Gakkel - Photographs New York Tuesday, April 4, 2023 | Phillips
  • Yakov Yakovlevich Gakkel (1901-1965) was a geographer well-respected in the Soviet Union for his storied career and research. In 1932 he joined the Arctic Institute located in Leningrad. Throughout his tenure, Gakkel participated in 21 expeditions, many of which he led. The photographs in this lot most likely coincide with the unfortunate Chelyuskin expedition of August 1933-February 34. Gakkel's reason for being aboard had been to study the formation of the first polar ice sheets beginning in September. However, the ship became trapped by ice and sank, and most of the equipment as well as Gakkel’s findings were lost. Airplanes eventually rescued the crew members who had been camping on the surrounding ice formations. The final photograph in this offering is believed to be a rendering of the site itself, while the other nine images are likely constructed photomontages made by Gakkel to replicate his observations of the ice.


    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

      Serge Plantureux, Paris, 2002

Photographs from the Collection of Pierre Apraxine


Selected Montages Showing Ice Formations in the Arctic

A suite of ten gelatin silver prints.
Each 4 x 6 5/8 in. (10.2 x 16.8 cm)
One signed and annotated '248/275,' the rest numbered sequentially in pencil on the reverse of the frame.

Full Cataloguing

$5,000 - 7,000 

Sold for $5,334

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 4 April 2023