Witkin Gallery, New York
Collection of James R. Rochlis, acquired from the above, 1969
Sotheby's New York, 17 October 2003, Sale 7925, Lot 145
Frances D. McMullen, 'Lowly Things That Yield Strange Stark Beauty,' New York Times Magazine, 16 November 1930, p. 7
Ben Maddow, Edward Weston: Fifty Years (Aperture, 1973), p. 149
Barbara Haskell, The American Century: Art & Culture, 1900-1950 (Whitney Museum of American Art, 1999), fig. 387, p. 201
Brett Abbott, In Focus: Edward Weston (J. Paul Getty, Museum, 2005), front wrapper and pl. 25
The significance of Weston’s shell photographs to his oeuvre and to the history of art cannot be overestimated. His photographs of shells, placed before a plain, dark background, exemplify his achievement as an artist. These deceptively simple arrangements belie the complexity of their conception and their making, the years of evolution in Weston’s own vision, and his countless trials with objects before the camera. In a world inundated with photographic imagery, Weston’s shell photographs continue to resonate, both in the history of photography and in the broader category of twentieth-century art as a whole.
Conger notes that this double shell image was included in important early Weston exhibitions, among them ones at the Seattle Fine Arts Society in 1928, the Delphic Gallery in New York in 1930, and the Morgan Camera Shop in Los Angeles in 1939. The New York Times, in its fine review of the landmark Delphic Gallery exhibition, chose the present image as the lead illustration. The reviewer, Frances McMullen, praised above all Weston’s transcendent photographs of the ordinary—vegetables, fruit, rocks, and shells. ‘The result is a beauty that is entirely photographic,’ McMullen wrote, ‘relying for its peculiar quality upon exact rendition of the physical texture of things . . . The technique is one of detail . . . relentlessly intent ’(New York Times, 16 November 1930).
This photograph was for several decades owned by the pioneering photographs collector James J. Rochlis (1916 – 2002), whose collection was offered in these rooms in October 2003. One of Lee Witkin’s most important clients in the Witkin Gallery’s early years, Rochlis was a successful businessman with Chris-Craft Industries, as well as an accomplished photographer. Provenance notes kept by Rochlis and his wife Riva indicate that the present print likely came from the collection of the artist Rockwell Kent. From Weston’s California daybook, we know that Weston corresponded with Kent in the spring of 1928. Creative Art magazine, for which Kent was a contributing editor, published an article by Weston later that year, illustrated with another of Weston’s double-shell photographs (Conger 545). Although there are few further published documents between Kent and Weston, Weston included Rockwell Kent in a list of sponsors for his first Guggenheim fellowship in 1936. Physical aspects of the print’s mount may also confirm a Kent provenance.
Weston recorded eighteen prints of this study in his negative log at the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, but few early prints have been located at the time of this writing. There is no print in the nearly definitive Edward Weston collection of the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson. Conger (F.3) lists prints in four other institutions, but only one is likely to be as early as the print offered here, that in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, a gift of Albert Bender. Other than the present print, no print of this image in this superb early state is believed to have appeared at auction.
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