What I’ve learned: Jude Quinn, senior specialist in Photographs

Our London-based specialist on how a youthful passion for fashion and publishing led her to the work of artists such as Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, and ultimately to this year’s record-breaking sales of masterpieces by Man Ray and Helmut Newton 

Hiroshi Sugimoto photograph In Praise of Shadows 1998 with Christie’s Photographs specialist Jude Quinn

Specialist Jude Quinn with Hiroshi Sugimoto (b. 1948), In Praise of Shadows, 980816, 1998. Sold for €50,400 on 24 May 2022 at Christie’s in Paris. Artwork: © Hiroshi Sugimoto. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery

No two days in my job are the same — it’s very much part of the charm. That has been the case ever since I joined the Christie’s Photographs department 11 years ago. Between our dedicated Photographs sales, and the broader auctions (such as Post-War and Contemporary art) that require individual photographic works, there’s a constant stream of sales I am working towards.

Add to that a number of valuations, client meetings, and hours spent researching masterpieces (more on which below), and there really are no quiet moments!

My path to Christie’s wasn’t exactly traditional. As a teenager living in a small town in Ireland, fervently collecting magazines such as Vogue  was my hobby. I studied history at university, and when it came to looking for a job, I was keen to find something that would combine my interests in fashion and publishing.

I discovered that Christie’s sold, as photographic prints, many of the works that I’d grown up looking at. A large part of what we offer in our sales is fashion photography, and I arrived at Christie’s with essentially a reference library in my head of photographs by greats such as Helmut Newton, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first Photographs sale at Christie’s. Held in London, it was called Victorian Photographs and Photographica  and featured photographic prints, cameras and camera equipment from the Victorian era.

Fast-forward to May 2022, and we marked the anniversary year by selling the most expensive photograph ever offered at auction — namely, Le Violon d’Ingres, 1924  by Man Ray. It sold for $12.4 million, a world-record price by some margin.

Man Ray (1890-1976), Le Violon d’Ingres, 1924. Unique gelatin silver print, flush-mounted on board. Sold for $12,412,500 on 14 May 2022 at Christie’s in New York. Artwork: © Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022

People usually think of photography as a medium of multiples. Which is true — but not always. We sold “Big Nude III” (Variation), Paris  by Helmut Newton, for example, in the same week as the Man Ray. It was an absolute one-off, which is to say, the only known print of this variant image of Henriette Allais. Newton gifted it to his dealer Rudi Kicken in the 1990s, as a thank you for his loyalty, and until this year it had never come to market.

The appreciation of, and appetite for, photographic masterpieces is at an all-time high. “Big Nude III” sold for $2.3 million, the highest price ever paid for a photograph by Newton. Offering works of this stature has become a central part of my job, and is certainly one of the most exciting elements.

The sale of Audrey Hepburn’s collection in 2017 was a highlight of my time at Christie’s. It included numerous portraits of her by major photographers, but also a host of other lots, ranging from clothing to an annotated copy of her film script for Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

It was a white-glove sale (every lot sold) and must have lasted from about 2pm till midnight. There was a real magic to that sale, and the applause at the end of it felt apt. Everyone wanted a piece of Audrey.

The people aspect of my role — whether interacting with clients or with colleagues — is as exciting for me as the art. I love talking to people about what they do and what their interests are. If someone were to ask me to name my dream job apart from the one I’m doing now, I’d probably say talk show host. I suppose some might call that nosiness, but I prefer to think of it as curiosity!

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My advice to any young person coming into this business today is to pick up the telephone. Just the other day, a collector in New York told me that phoning him, though a less convenient way of doing business than it used to be, showed a personal touch that went far to securing his goodwill — and likely custom in the future.

It’s so easy these days to get into a habit of sending and receiving emails. But the more meaningful and productive connections are always made when you speak to someone directly.

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