The photograph of Charles Deburau, a mime artist from the Théatre des Funambules, by the Nadar brothers that sold at Phillips De Pury in New York for $450,000 (£300,000).

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

His studio was one of the many that proliferated in Paris from the 1850s once collodion-on-glass negatives came into use, but Nadar - already famous as a bohemian intellectual, writer, publisher, skilled caricaturist, critic and reviewer of vaudeville theatre - was also one of the best-known photographers of his time. Portraits were his particular forte.

Photographic talent ran in the family. Nadar funded his brother Adrien to take an apprenticeship with the pioneering photographer Gustave le Gray and also came to the rescue financially when Adrien's studio was threatened with financial collapse.

This 11 x 8in (28 x 20cm) salt print of a Pierrot, peering exaggeratedly at a basket of fruit, which came up for sale in the two-session sale of photography held by Phillips De Pury in New York on October 4, is a mid-1850s example of collaborative work by the two brothers and an image which links together many of Nadar's theatrical interests.

The subject of the portrait is Charles Deburau, a mime artist from the Théatre des Funambules, with which Nadar was very familiar. Dubureau was a famous exponent of the revival of the commedia dell'arte character, just like his father Baptiste before him (who served, incidentally, as the model for the Pierrot character in Jean Louis Barrault's famous film Les Enfants du Paradis).

The study is one of a series showing Pierrot in a range of têtes d'expressions or characteristic exaggerated poses. Other Pierrot prints in the series are in the Metropolitan and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and one in the Musée D'Orsay shows the Pierrot character as a photographer with a camera on a tripod.

Although the photographer brothers collaborated on several projects, they had also become rivals in their profession by this time. Indeed, when the Pierrot series was exhibited at the Exposition Universelle of 1855, it won a gold medal that was awarded to the younger brother Adrien alone, who had taken to calling himself Nadar Jeune.

A long-running lawsuit from his elder brother followed and shortly after Adrien found financial backing to open his own studio by October 1855 under the name of Tournachon Nadar et Compagnie.

The print offered at Phillips de Pury, with a provenance to a private Parisian collection, bears the stamp Nadar Jne to the reverse. What makes this particular print additionally attractive is the presence of a small doodle at the side of the figure by Deburau, signed and dedicated to his collaborator Negrier.

The image, which was estimated at an already substantial $150,000-200,000, ended up more than doubling that level to make $450,000 (£300,000) plus buyer's premium.

By Anne Crane