thumb image

Photography provided by Christie’s

Singer Elton John has always been an obsessive collector of everything from sleek Bentleys to Versace shirts. So when the superstar decided to sell 900 pieces from his former Atlanta home, Christie’s in New York City held a February auction extravaganza, offering glitzy preview nights and eight separate auctions, both live and online. Bidders from 60 countries snapped up art, fine jewelry, even custom-made platform boots in the star-studded sales, which brought in $20.5 million, more than double the early estimates.

Amid all the hoopla, there was one category of items that quietly captured the attention of astute buyers around the globe: photography. Somewhere along the line, Elton John has become a connoisseur — so much so that he has assembled one of the world’s largest private collections, totaling some 7,000 images. “When Elton John bought his Atlanta residence in the 1990s, it was a period of much change and transition for him,” Elizabeth Seigel, head of Christie’s Private and Iconic Collections, New York, exclusively tells us. “He had just gotten sober and seeing the world through clean-and-sober eyes gave him new perspectives on ways of approaching and seeing different mediums and art forms.”

The famed Rocketman certainly knows a thing or two about being in front of the camera, given his stratospheric rise to stardom. But over time, that awareness morphed into a passion for photography as an art form. Soon he was purchasing an average of 1.5 pieces a week. “He began buying from various Atlanta-based dealers and galleries, then threw himself into the scholarship and understanding of the category,” Seigel explains. “He read, studied and bought voraciously, ultimately building his reputation as an important collector.”

For this sale, 350 photographs were up for auction, all plucked from the dazzling gallery walls the musician had set up in his Atlanta residence. There he displayed hundreds of images at a time, featuring artists who pushed both technical and creative boundaries. But always grounding his collection: the singer’s appreciation for iconic fashion photography. “One prime example of that,” says Seigel, “is John’s print of Avedon’s ‘Dovima with Elephants,’ 1955, which is a rarely seen alternative image from the famous photo shoot that produced what is perhaps Avedon’s most celebrated image.” She adds, “John’s is the original engraver’s print photograph used for reproduction in the Harper’s Bazaar issue where the images first appeared.” Amid brisk bidding, the image sold for $151,200.

Fashion aside, the EGOT recipient is just as drawn to the dynamism of photographers from the 1980s, like Robert Mapplethorpe, whose “Calla Lily,” 1988, sold for $157,500, almost three times the low estimate. History most definitely plays a part in John’s inventory of photography, with several museum-quality works from social documentarians like Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand. Rounding things out were pieces by famed artists like the technically brilliant and temporal works of Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto, whose arresting image “Polar Bear,” 1976, sold for $69,300, four times more than anticipated.

Elton John’s once-in-a-lifetime photographic collection brilliantly captures the medium’s greatest hits. Which is why this spring, more than 300 of his images will be unveiled at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where Fragile Beauty will make history as the institution’s largest photography exhibition to date. Proving once again that this savvy collector with the exacting eye knows how to hit the high notes.

Read this article as it appears in the magazine.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This