National Geographic auction takes in $3.8 million

07 December 2012 - 11:51 By Reuters
An exhibition of the work by Steve McCurry, an American photojournalist best known for his photograph,
An exhibition of the work by Steve McCurry, an American photojournalist best known for his photograph, "Afghan Girl" that originally appeared in National Geographic magazine. The photo is being auctioned in a National Geographic mass auction.
Image: Jean-Michel BAUD

The National Geographic Society opened its vaults and offered hundreds of historic and contemporary photographs and works of art at auction on Thursday, taking in nearly $3.8 million.

Led by Newell Convers Wyeth’s painting of two pirates, The Duel on the Beach, which fetched $1 082 500 including commission, the sale at Christie’s exceeded expectations, totaling $3 776 588.

Records were set for several artists and photographers, including Steve McCurry, whose haunting photograph Afghan Girl soared to three times the high estimate, selling for $178 900.

Christie’s said in a statement it was “delighted” with the sale, “which saw participation that was just as enthusiastic and international as the readers of National Geographic magazine,” said Katherine Brambilla, associate vice president for private and iconic collections.

“It reinforces the visual power and emotional connection the National Geographic brand has to people from around the world,” added National Geographic Society senior vice president Maura Mulvihill, director of its image and video collection.

More than 200 photographs dating from the 1800s to the present, paintings by artists such as Andrew and Newell Convers Wyeth and works of art from the fields of geography, archaeology, wildlife and world cultures hit the block at the much-anticipated sale, which was held on the eve of the 125th anniversary of the society’s founding.

Other highlights included The North American Indian, a 40-volume and portfolio record of traditional Native American culture by Edward S. Curtis with text and photographs, which sold for $902 500, just beating the high estimate.

Newell Wyeth’s oil The Sea-Spider from 1914 fetched $146 500, while Tom Lovell’s painting Surrender at Appomattox went for $80 500, about four times the presale estimate.

And Herbert Ponting’s more than 100-year-old gelatin silver print, Iceberg, Antarctica sold for an artist’s-record $37 500, more then five times its estimate.

Other works sold for as little as a few hundred dollars.

Another top price was the $266 500 paid for William Henry Jackson and John K. Hillers’ 19th-century, five-volume Photographs of US Geological and Geographical Survey (Hayden Survey), although it fell short of even the low estimate.

The National Geographic Society, based in Washington, D.C., is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. Proceeds from the sale will be used to preserve the society’s archives and to foster the careers of aspiring artists and photographers.