Childhood Images Captivate Collectors at Photographs Auction

Alfred Eisenstaedt (American, 1898-1995). Children at a Puppet Theatre, Paris, 1963. Gelatin silver, 1990

Alfred Eisenstaedt’s Children at a Puppet Theatre, Paris, 1963, captures childhood excitements and innocence in this Gelatin silver, 1990. 13-7/8 x 20-7 inches (35.2 x 53 cm) image. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions

ART AUCTION: Photographs exceed $1 million at Heritage Auctions as collectors contested for childhood images.


Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009), Boys with Branches, New York, circa 1939. Gelatin silver, 6-1/2 x 8-3/4 inches (16.5 x 22.2 cm). Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions

NEW YORK, NY. — Alfred Eisenstaedt’s classic Children at the Puppet Theatre, Paris 1962, was one of the top lots at Heritage Auctions sale of photographs in New York recently.  The photograph captures the childhood experience of children enjoying a puppet show. While some of them appear excited, others scream in a manner that reminds us of Edvard Munch’s Scream.  With palms on both cheeks and eyes and mouth wide open, they are consumed by freighting excitement. One of the children towers above others, raising his hand in the air with pure ecstasy. The image sold for $25,000.

Children at the Puppet Theatre, Paris 1962, was just one of the photographs from The Reflections of Childhood Collection, Part II that did very well at the auction. Many of images in this collection expose childhood experiences and innocence in such compelling ways. The collection according Heritage Auctions “consisted of important and rare photographs capturing the contradictions, mysteries, and even the pains of growing up.”

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Boys With Branches, New York, circa 1939, by Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009), also from the Reflections Collection, sold for $22,500. The black and white image captures children in a distance playing with tree branches.  Their childhood adventure is hilarious and the photograph shows it.  One of the boys has a large tree branch in his hand while the others hold tiny tree branches. They jump and skip as they try to escape the boy with the big tree branch. The joyfulness of the children and the inherent childhood innocence, in what looks like a desolate space, is infectious.  Children With Broken Mirror, NYC, circa 1940 also by Levitt sold for $18,750.

The auction went smoothly until a rare and vintage print by William Klein came to floor for auction. It brought great excitement to the rood. Titled Stickball Player + Johnny, New York, 1954, the image set off a bidding war as collectors competed to add it to their collections. It captures a boy intensely focused on an object in the air. Dressed in a white tee-shirt and black pants, the boy engages in Stickball playing, a childhood playtime activity young boys used to escape boredom. At the end of the bidding war, the photograph went for $20,625, far above the $4000 pre-auction estimate.

The auction of The Reflections of Childhood Collection, Part II realized more than $526,000, adding to the more than $1 million dollars generated by the Heritage Auctions photograph sale. Augmenting the sale is a collection of contemporary photographs by outstanding photographers, photo journalists and artists.

A major highlight of the contemporary photographs was Nan Goldin’s Nan and Brian in bed, NYC, 1983. The poignant color image captures what appears to be lovers in a bedroom. It sold for $18,750. Steve McCurry’s iconic image titled Afghan Girl, Pakistan, 1985 sold for $16,250. The photograph which adorned the cover of National Geographic magazine exceeded pre-auction estimate.

Speaking about the auction of photographs, Nigel Russell, Director of Photography at Heritage Auctions said:  “We are extremely pleased to offer our clients a selection of photographs found practically nowhere else.”   He adds: “We saw strong demand for vintage prints by William Klein, and Hellen Levitt which very rarely appear on the market as well as iconic images by Alfred Eisenstaedt and Ansel Adams – many of which drastically surpassed expectations.”

With The Reflections of Childhood Collection, Part II and contemporary photographs by famous artists, photo journalists and photographers, Heritage Auctions has again shown that there is great demand among collectors for vintage photographs. The collection of images of childhood innocence and experience will continue to captivate collectors.

Steve McCurry (American, b. 1950), Afghan Girl, Pakistan, 1985. Dye destruction, printed later. 17-1/2 x 11-5/8 inches (44.5 x 29.5 cm). Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Here are some of the other highlights of the Heritage Auctions photograph sale:

Zehra (three boys showing off muscles), 1967 by Josef Koudelka (Czech, b. 1938): Realized: $16,250.

Josef Koudelka (Czech, b. 1938), Zehra (three boys showing off muscles), 1967. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions

A never before sold Contact Sheet of David Bowie  – shot by Helmut Newton in 1983 at the very peak of Bowie’s widespread success: Realized: $15,000. 

Helmut Newton , David Bowie, Monte Carlo, 1983. Gelatin silver contact sheet enlargement, 48-1/4 x 53-3/4 inches (122.6 x 136.5 cm). Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions

El Capitan, Sunrise, Winter, Yosemite, pl. 10 (from Portfolio VII), 1968,: Realized: $13,750.

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984), El Capitan, Sunrise, Winter, Yosemite, pl. 10 (from Portfolio VII), 1968. Selenium-toned gelatin silver, 1976. 19-1/4 x 15-3/8 inches (48.9 x 39.1 cm). Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Xie Kitchen, Badcock Yard Studio, 1869, shot by Lewis Carroll, the imaginative English author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: Realized: $12,500.

Lewis Carroll (British, 1832-1898), Xie Kitchen, Badcock Yard Studio, 1869 Albumen.5-3/4 x 5 inches (14.6 x 12.7 cm). Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions

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