‘Obsessions’, circa 1865. Estimate 7,000 - 10,000 €.

PARIS - Who can be hiding behind these plates entitled Obsessions, which have baffled numerous experts? The Musée d’Orsay conducted a fruitless investigation after acquiring six leaves from a 95-page album at Sotheby’s London in the late 1970s. The two plates we are offering on November 14 date from 1865–70, and feature collages with the same recurring characters of a man and a woman, playing out a chilling, secret tale in which they assume the roles of executioner and victim. The man, alternately clad and unclad, embodies conflicting characters/aspects of himself as he seeks to exorcise the criminal impulses lurking within him . . . culminating in the inevitably mortal act, theatrically symbolized by two feet protruding through a doorway – those of a corpse.

‘Obsessions’, circa 1865. Estimate 8,000 - 12,000 €.

These unique plates are radically different from the artistic approach to photography prevalent in the second half of the 19th century. We are instead confronted by a photographic obsession, powered by a dark narrative. Is it inspired by a sensationalistic report in the local press – hence the newspaper (Le Lyonnais) on the woman’s lap? Is it a fantasy surging from the recesses of a tortured mind? Or is it the fruit of scientific research pre-dating Freud, exploring the dark world of the subconscious? And who is the mysterious author of this photographic UFO? A pioneering genius? A madman?  A Surrealist before the Surrealists? – A host of questions remain unanswered when we contemplate these haunting and disorienting images.


Sotheby’s France – Photography
Auction: Friday 14 November at 2pm