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Brassai sale in Paris beats estimates, sets record for artist

A Paris sale of images by Brassai set a record for the Hungarian-born photographer and beat the low estimates by 326% to fetch €5.09 million ($6.46 million), according to the auction house Millon & Associes. Brassai, who died in 1984, left his wife Gilberte hundreds of self-printed images. A total of 765 items was offered in a two-day sale of his estate -- including sculptures and drawings – that was organized by the Hotel des Ventes Drouot and ended last night. The 1968 work „Graffiti I,” a black-and-white patchwork of prints showing figures carved and scribbled on Paris walls after World War II, fetched 206,597 euros, a record for a Brassai print sold at auction. One of his defining images, the 1930s „Cobblestones,” sold for €103,298 to a US private collector.

The original of a Montparnasse bistro queen „La Mome Bijou” went for €49,826. „For months, specialists told us that the market would not be able to absorb such a number of works by a single artist, even Brassai,” the auctioneer Alexandre Millon said in a telephone interview. „We bet it would work.” Brassai became famous after the 1932 publication of his book „Paris by Night,” which features the underground world of the French capital, its night clubs, transvestites and brothels. The sale follows the death last year of the photographer's widow and his trustee. With death duties to pay, she commissioned the French state to sell part of the collection. Another part will remain with her sister.

The auction featured mainly vintage prints, made almost at the time the photographs were taken. Drouot said private collectors from English-speaking countries as well as Germans, French and Greeks were among the buyers. The French state used its right of pre-emption for 11 works, including an exhibition print made in the 1960s of the 1933 „Nude.” The Paris Modern Art Museum bought the print for €30,382 and also acquired the series of four pictures representing the Medrano Circus. The Pompidou Center and the city of Paris also took part in the auction. The artist, whose first passion was drawing, also made engravings that fetched some of the auction's highest prices. Brassai's sepia representation of a prostitute undressing, estimated at €10,000, sold for €55,902. His close-up self-portrait, a cartoon-like drawing from April 14, 1948, and signed „B,” sold to an anonymous Greek collector for €33,420. (Bloomberg)