Wednesday, January 11, 2012

August Sander's Pastry Chef

August Sander's 1928 photograph of a Pastry Chef has long been a favorite of mine since I saw it in an old issue of Horizon. Sander's collected photographic work is like a catalogue of different people in various classes and occupations throughout German society. This excellent print was sold at Swann Galleries on May 20, 2010 for slightly more than half the low estimate, a price that may well have disappointed the seller and Swann.

I have virtually no experience purchasing photographs. I confess to having little understanding of the market. What I do understand is the modern limited-edition lithographic print, how it is signed and numbered by the artist, how there are a fixed number of artist's proofs in addition to the published limitation, and how the plates are cancelled and destroyed after the edition is completed. Photography, one would think, could operate under the same set of principles. For a given image, the art photographer would make a limited number of prints for the market, sign and number them, and then destroy the negative.

If this were the way the fine photography market worked, at least until the advent of digital imagery, I would understand it in principle. For a work of art that exists as a print or multiple to be desirable as an investment, there has to be a fixed limit to the number of copies that can be made, and, ideally, that total number should be readily known. Otherwise, the art object becomes a commodity that can keep being produced for as long as there is a buyer anywhere, like those ubiquitous Frederic Remington bronzes that are somehow still being cast and showing up in shops. They may retain beauty as works of art, but they are unlikely to appreciate in value.

The reason I mention all this is that this image was printed in 1976 by Gunther Sander, the photographer's son. From the auction listing, it is impossible to tell how many of these later prints were made. I concede that the print looks great. I assume that the print is a different size from any 1928 edition. I just don't understand how many are out there now, and how many more may be made from the negative in the future.

Sale 2215 Lot 264
SANDER, AUGUST (1876-1964)/SANDER, GUNTHER (1907-1987) 
"Konditor [Pastry Chef].
Silver print, 10 3/4x8 1/4 inches (27.3x21 cm.), with two of the "Aug. Sander Köln" embossed hand stamps on recto and Gunther's signature and date, in pencil, on verso. 1928; printed 1976 
Estimate $5,000-7,500 
Sold for $2,800
Antlitz der Zeit, 16.



  1. There is something eminently reassuring about buying pastries from a chap who obviously likes his own tuck!