Irving Penn photos to be auctioned at Christie's

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Dozens of portraits by Irving Penn, one of the most prolific and important photographers of the 20th century, will be auctioned at Christie’s tomorrow in the biggest single sale of his work.

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Penn gave the 67 portraits over 30 years to his administrative assistant and friend Patricia McCabe, who died in 2004.

Laura Paterson, photography specialist at Christie’s, said many pictures up for auction are platinum prints of the highest possible quality.

“I mean, these had a number of Penn devotees. In looking at the collection, people who know a lot about the artist said that they are the best examples of a particular image they have ever seen,” she explained.

“He wasn’t just giving her tokens. These are wonderful objects in their own right.”

The collection is expected to sell for between $1.5 million and $2 million. Highlights of the auction include Cuzco Children, which was done in 1948 and has an estimated price range of $100,000 to $150,000.

Poppy: Glowing Embers New York could sell for up to $90,000 and Woman in Moroccan Palace, of Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn, in Marrakech is estimated to fetch between $300,000 and $500,000.

Fonnsagrives-Penn is considered the first supermodel and was married to Penn, who died in 2009. She was often photographed by Penn for many magazine covers.

But the photographs represent various examples of Penn’s work. Paterson, who said McCabe was very careful in her Penn choices, said the sale should change the market for non-fashion imagery.

It should also spark interest because there isn’t much available on the retail market, and due to a recent show of Penn’s “Small Trades” pictures, which is a complete series of worker pictures.

McCabe had four or five photographs in her apartment. Paterson said when she discovered the bulk of the collection at a Manhattan mini storage, “I couldn’t believe my eyes.”

“We don’t know how the collection evolved but taking a look at kind of the rationale here, I think Patricia said ‘I’d like one of those’ ... he give her that option.”

Detail is also what makes the portfolio more intriguing with photographs labeled by medium, title, edition, and signed with personal notes to McCabe on the back of the prints.

Paterson, who has been at Christie’s for 15 years, said that on occasion there are high points for this type of medium and for her “this is absolutely one of those moments.”

Reporting by Bernard Orr; Editing by Patricia Reaney