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Stairwell, williamsburg

Mounted, signed in pencil on the mount, framed, 1935 Charles Sheeler’s Stairwell, Williamsburg, combines the artist’s love of the American vernacular with his distinctive sense of form.  Taken on a visit to Colonial Williamsburg, made at the behest of his patron Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, the image is a radical standout in Sheeler’s more traditional studies of the town’s architecture and interiors.    Stairwell, Williamsburg, is in one sense the culmination of a series of staircase photographs begun at Sheeler’s home in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, in 1917.   In the Doylestown photographs, however, the motif of the staircase is always recognizable.  In the image offered here, the sense of abstraction is almost complete, with light and space providing the principle subject matter.  Charles Sheeler was a sophisticated collector of early American furniture and crafts.  His initial interest in the field may have been inspired by the connoisseurs Louise and Walter Arensberg, whose art-filled apartment he photographed early in his career.  His exclusive gallerist, Edith Halpert, opened the first American folk art gallery in New York, in 1929, and among her best customers was Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, who commissioned Sheeler’s work in Williamsburg and founded the folk art museum there.   Sheeler’s homes in South Salem, New York, and later in Ridgefield, Connecticut, were furnished with Americana, especially the simple Shaker furniture he loved.  His respect for form is reflected in the clean, simple lines of his drawings, his meticulous paintings in oil, and in photographs such as Stairwell, Williamsburg. Extant prints of the image offered here, as with most of Sheeler’s photographs, are scarce.  The Lane Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the great repository of Sheeler’s work, owns a print of this image, as does The Museum of Modern Art, a gift to the Museum from Sheeler’s Connecticut neighbor Edward Steichen.   The J. Paul Getty Museum owns a print that was acquired from the gallerist James Maroney, a print that had come originally from Sheeler’s estate. At Sotheby’s New York in 1984, the Weston Gallery, on behalf of Marjorie and Leonard Vernon, purchased what is believed to be the only other print of this image ever offered at auction, a print now in The Vernon Collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.   The Vernon print was originally owned by Constance Rourke, Sheeler’s friend and biographer, and had been consigned to the 1984 auction by her family.   In her Charles Sheeler: Artist in the American Tradition, Rourke wrote eloquently of the photograph offered here: ‘His photograph of a stairwell at Williamsburg may seem to some observers an almost wholly subjective picture, even a symbolic representation of a phase of mind—abstract, severe, contemplative—particularly if it is set alongside one of [his] very expressive free series of windy cloud and sky forms . . . If a subjective content exists in the “Stairwell,” it is because the view which could reveal this has been subtly chosen, the record exquisitely made, from the time the camera was focused upon the subject until the print was mounted’ (p. 123). The present print, possibly the only print of the image still in private hands, comes originally from the collection of the photographer Arnold Newman (1918 – 2006), who photographed Sheeler in 1942.

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-03-31
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EDWARD S. CURTIS

EDWARD S. CURTIS The North American Indian, Being a Series of Volumes Picturing and Describing the Indians of the United States and Alaska Cambridge, MA., 1907-30. A complete set Number 180, from an edition of approximately 272 of the proposed edition of 500. Comprised of 20 text Volumes, containing approximately 1524 small-format photogravures, 4 maps and 2 diagrams; and 20 accompanying Portfolios, containing approximately 723 large-format photogravures; the whole printed on Van Gelder Holland paper, many bearing the Van Gelder Zonan watermark. Edited by Frederick Webb Hodge, Field Research conducted under the patronage of J. Pierpont Morgan and Foreword by Theodore Roosevelt. This copy signed and dated 1907 by Curtis in ink on the Introduction page; signed in ink by Theodore Roosevelt on the Foreword page. Each text volume numbered 180 in ink, vols. I-XIV with H. Blackwell stamp, vol. XV with Whitman Bennett stamp, and vols. XVI-XX with Plimpton Press stamp on the Justification page. Library label affixed to inside front cover of Volumes 2 and 3 and Portfolios 1-16. 1907-30. 40 volumes: 4to (text and small-format photogravures in 20 Volumes), bound in original half-brown morocco, gilt-lettered spines and top edges gilt; large folio (supplementary large plates in 20 Portfolios), bound in half-brown morocco, with gilt-impressed portfolio number. Limited edition number 180. The set contained in a custom-designed period 3-section oak and glass cabinet. Accompanied by the original subscription agreement dated November 25, 1910 and inscribed Roosevelt Autographed foreword with Edition in ink and 4 letters of correspondence between Curtis and the original subscriber, 3 signed in ink by Curtis on letterhead imprinted personal stationary. (40)

  • USAUSA
  • 1992-10-13
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Faces, pennsylvania town (johnstown)

Flush-mounted, mounted again to a sheet of loose-leaf paper, signed in pencil and with 'Part One #3 Faces, Pennsylvania Town 1936' and numerical notations in ink and pencil on the secondary mount, 1935 The print offered here of Faces, Pennsylvania Town (Johnstown), is on the original, hole-punched, loose-leaf mount that Evans used in a maquette for his landmark monograph, American Photographs.  Originally published in 1938 by The Museum of Modern Art, in conjunction with Evans’s first major museum exhibition, American Photographs remains a definitive pictorial survey of America in the wake of the Great Depression.     Although dated 1936 in American Photographs and on the present mount, this photograph was likely taken in the fall of 1935.  In July and November of that year, Evans, newly hired by the Resettlement Administration, traveled through the industrial towns of Pennsylvania, among them Johnstown, a small town 70 miles east of Pittsburgh.  Although a number of his photographs for the Resettlement Administration and Farm Security Administration were taken with a view camera, the present image is an enlargement from 35mm film, the format Evans often used when photographing people.  The 35mm film negative for the image offered here is now in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Faces, Pennsylvania Town, was included in both the exhibition and the book of American Photographs.   It appears early in the sequencing of Part One, immediately following the famous License Photo Studios and the Penny Picture Display.  Many of the prints from Evans’s American Photographs maquette, similarly-mounted and captioned, are owned by the J. Paul Getty Museum, formerly in the collection of Arnold Crane, with several others at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

  • USAUSA
  • 2014-12-12
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'eddie carmel, a jewish giant with his parents in the living room of

Signed and inscribed by the photographer in ink in the margin and signed, titled, and dated by her in ink on the reverse, 1970 The print offered here comes from the collection of Philip Leider, the founding editor of Artforum magazine.  One of the few magazines to publish Arbus’s work as art during her lifetime, Artforum made the prescient decision to feature an Arbus image on the cover of its May 1971 issue, the Patriotic Boy with Straw Hat, Buttons, and Flag, Waiting to March in a Pro-War Parade.  Inside the issue, on pages 64 through 69, an article entitled ‘Five Photographs by Diane Arbus’ reproduced five of the photographer’s signature images, each on its own page, along with a brief text written by Arbus herself.  The Arbus text, solicited by Leider, has been reproduced almost as often as the article’s photographs, which included the Identical Twins; Eddie Carmel, a Jewish Giant; Christmas Tree in a Living Room; Young Family in Brooklyn; and Lauro Morales, a Mexican Dwarf.    Among the often-quoted sentences from the May 1971 Artforum text is Arbus’s statement, ‘Nothing is ever the same as they said it was.  It’s what I’ve never seen before that I recognize.’  Arbus’s full text is reproduced, and the Artforum issue discussed, in Revelations, pages 218-219. Philip Leider was Artforum’s first editor, from 1962 to 1971.  In her comprehensive volume, Challenging Art: Artforum 1962 – 1974 (New York, 2000), Amy Newman charts Leider’s definitive role in shaping the magazine’s philosophical stance, the choice of art reproduced on its pages, and its decisive influence on contemporary art and criticism during the 1960s and early 1970s.  Founded in San Francisco in 1962, the magazine, and Leider with it, moved to Los Angeles in 1965, and then to New York in 1967.  As Newman describes in detail, it was Philip Leider’s rigorous critical standards that gave the magazine its authority in its first decade. Philip Leider has described how he came to own a print of the Jewish Giant as follows: ‘Diane Arbus may not have had a very widespread reputation at the time I met her, but her work was extremely well-known within the art world.  It was, in fact, Henry Geldzahler, then the Met’s curator of twentieth-century art, who told me that Diane was preparing a portfolio [the Box of Ten Photographs] and might be interested in letting me have a look at it. ‘We met—Diane, Henry, and I—in her apartment, which I think was then in Westbeth.  The portfolio was stunning—I wanted to publish the whole thing in Artforum.  I recall Diane letting me look through boxes of amazing prints that were in the bottom of some closet, while she and Henry chatted.  I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure that I asked Diane if she’d consider writing something to go in the magazine.  By that time, I’d come to realize that the best stuff I was publishing was being written by artists.  In any event, she wrote a beautiful short paragraph, which was all the text those photographs needed. . . ‘As the issue came together it wasn’t long before I realized that one of the photographs would be on the cover.  I had a lot of trouble deciding between the kid with the hand grenade or the boy in the straw hat.  In the end, I guess it was the zeitgeist that won out.  I think that Diane was surprised to find one of her photographs on the cover.  Some time after the issue came out, she called to thank me (she was thanking me!) and asked if I’d like one of the pictures.  Would I!  She asked me to pick one.  By that time, the Jewish Giant had supplanted the boy with the hand grenade in my affections, primarily, I think, because Diane had managed to get so accurately the stain on the mother’s housedress.  Not only did it remind me of my own and every other Jewish mother I knew, but the contrast with the suit and tie of the father told a whole story in itself. ‘Every work of art I own has been given to me by the artist who made it.  Over the years, these works have been seen and discussed by hundreds of friends, visitors, and students, but nothing has come near the attention that the Jewish Giant has generated.  And the strangest thing is how awed people are, not so much by the fact that Diane made the print just for me, but, oddly, by the fact that I’d known her.  “You knew her?”  “You actually met her?”  No one has ever said anything like that when looking at the drawings or prints other artists have given me.  If I had to guess what they were really asking, I’d imagine it was something like, “You mean she looked at you with that eye?”’ Arbus’s well-known photograph of Eddie Carmel, the Jewish Giant, was made in 1970, although she had met and photographed Carmel and his parents some years before.  Patricia Bosworth relates that Carmel was eight feet tall, weighed 495 pounds, and had tried to earn a living in a number of ways.  He had sold mutual funds from an office on 42nd Street; had auditioned for the lead in a Broadway show; and had attempted a television career, but was only able to get monster parts (Diane Arbus: A Biography, pp. 193-4). Some of Arbus’s earlier photographs of Carmel, who found work as the ‘World’s Biggest Cowboy’ at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus, are reproduced in Revelations, page 153.  In the spring of 1968, Arbus wrote to Peter Crookston, an editor at the London Times Sunday Magazine, about potential subjects, as follows: ‘”One more thing, perhaps too exotic. . . I know a Jewish giant who lives in Washington Heights or the Bronx with his little parents.  He is tragic with a curious bitter somewhat stupid wit.  The parents are orthodox and repressive and classic and disapprove of his carnival career. . . They are truly a metaphorical family.  When he stands with his arms around each he looks like he would gladly crush them.  They fight terribly in an utterly typical fashion which seems only exaggerated by their tragedy. . .’” (quoted in Revelations, pp. 67 and 190). In 1970, she returned to the subject of Eddie Carmel and his family, and on June 28, she wrote to Peter Crookston about the experience, “’I went back and did a picture I had wanted to do a few years ago for your family issue.  Marvelous’” (ibid., p. 209).   The ‘family issue’ to which Arbus refers is the November 10th, 1968, issue of the Sunday Times Magazine, which included two other Arbus photographs, with text (see Lot 185). The decision to include a photographer’s work in Artforum in 1971 was significant not only for Arbus, but for the medium of photography as well.  Although Arbus’s work had previously been published in a number of magazines, from Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar, to Sports Illustrated and Glamour, the photographs were usually made and published for editorial purposes, with explanatory text.  This changed with the Artforum issue.  The text provided by Arbus referred not to the photographs featured, but to photography itself.  The scale of the illustrations was full page, comparable to the full-page reproduction of a work by Robert Ryman in the same issue. Leider has described his decision to feature a photographer’s work in Artforum as follows: ‘For a large part of the time I edited Artforum, it was a basic tenet of modernist criticism that each art, if it wished to remain major, was faced with the task of paring itself down to what was unique to it, to what it shared with no other art.  In line with this, mixing painting and sculpture with theater, poetry, or photography was the last thing I wished to do in Artforum’s pages.  . . . ‘It was therefore with some hesitation that I entertained Henry Geldzahler’s suggestion that I consider giving space to a portfolio of photographs that Diane Arbus was putting together.  The debates raging around photography at that time—debates that often turned on whether photography was an art at all—seemed to me only distantly related to the concerns of an art magazine.  Though the subject of photography had begun to interest some of the magazine’s writers—not least because of the remarkable reputation that Diane Arbus had begun to acquire in the art world—I remained concerned about confusing issues facing modern painting and sculpture with those facing other enterprises.  I wasn’t sure there was a place for photography in a serious art magazine. ‘What changed everything was the portfolio [the Box of Ten Photographs] itself.  It then seemed to me that any definition of art that did not include such a body of work was fatally flawed.  It also seemed to me that Diane’s work accomplished for photography what we demanded be accomplished, under the needs of Modernism, for all arts: it owed nothing to any other art.  What it had to offer could only be provided by photography. . .  With Diane Arbus, one could find oneself interested in photography or not, but one could no longer, it seemed to me, deny its status as art.  And so, I felt, in featuring the portfolio, that Artforum was making a major statement not only about Diane Arbus, but about photography as well.’

  • USAUSA
  • 2004-10-16
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Photography

This category includes all manner of photographs and prints, from early photographs and historical images to iconic shoots, portraits, and contemporary photographic art. The lots here span the development of both photographic technology, and of photography as an art form, from their invention to the present day.

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