Western Art Sets Record with 2.4 Million Dollar Sale
June 2011, at Brian Lebel’s Old West Show and Sale, a record price of 2.4 million dollars was set for an antique pre-1880 photograph of Billy the Kid. I had the opportunity to talk with Brian when he came to visit my gallery during the annual Santa Fe Indian Market hoopla. The following is from that interview:
M.S What do you think the world record sale of the Billy the Kid photograph does for western art in general?
B.L. “This gives western art a shot in the arm and world wide attention, phone calls have come in from all over the world and we have received phone calls from Scottsdale, Ireland and France.
M.S. I know, I read about it in the Wall Street Journal the morning after the sale and while not surprised it topped the million mark was happy to see the photograph bring such an impressive number. What media coverage have you gotten?
B.L. It’s been across the board CNN, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, NY Times, LA Times and even Fox television. I did one 5-minute interview for the BBC in the middle of nowhere, Wagon Mound N.M. If you know the area, its very remote and I found a high place near a telephone tower and sat there for 5 minutes talking about the rare photo and Billy the Kid. I had a highway patrol officer watch me and wasn’t sure what I was going to say if he came up and knocked on my window? Do I give him the one-minute finger I’m finishing up my BBC interview? It was all kind of surreal.
M.S So the photograph that sold was one of 4 images known to be taken of The Kid, but is the only one that is known to have survived?
B.L. That’s correct this is the only known surviving image and it had great provenance. There were 5 bidders on the piece up to the first 1.2 million so there was serious interest and completion to own this piece of American history.
MS So what’s been the fall out of such intense media coverage?
B.L. It’s amazing how many people think they have a great historic photograph and I have been inundated with images. We have seen a few very interesting images which we plan on having in our next June 23rd Auction in Denver 2012.
My own take on the general pulse of the Western and Native American market is that great material continues to bring great prices. The hardest part in this business is still finding those number 10’s out there, which are rare, and the Billy the Kid photo proved that a ten could still bring record prices.