Collection of Gordon L. Bennett, Kentfield, California
Sotheby’s New York, The Gordon L. Bennett Collection of Carleton Watkins New Series Photographs of Yosemite, 28 April 2004, Sale 7966, Lot 49
Fort Worth, Amon Carter Museum, Carleton E. Watkins: Photographer of the American West, April-May 1983; and thereafter to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, June-August 1983; The St. Louis Art Museum, September-October 1983; and The Oakland Museum, December 1983-February 1984
Monterey Museum of Art, Carleton E. Watkins: Yosemite Photographs, Courtesy of Gordon L. Bennett, June-September 1993
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Yosemite: Then and Now, October 2010-January 2011
Peter Palmquist, Carleton E. Watkins, Photographer of the American West, p. xv and pl. 64 (this print)
The promontory known as Glacier Point rises 3,200 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley and provides a stunning view of Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, as well as a large expanse of the Valley’s north rim. Watkins first photographed from this vantage point in the 1860s, and he may well have been responsible for the name Glacier Point at that time. In ‘Carleton E. Watkins in Yosemite Valley, 1861-66: Geological Theory and Photographic Practice’ (History of Photography, Vol. 20, No. 1, 1996), Paul Hickman points out that Glacier Point appears on the mounts of Watkins photographs as early as 1865, and no prior citations have been found. Keenly interested in the scientific developments of his day, Watkins would have been aware of Clarence King’s theory of the glacial formation of Yosemite, and this may have inspired him to call the promontory Glacier Point—a point from which evidence of an ancient glacier and its movement through the Valley could be seen.
In contrast to his views of Yosemite from the 1860s, the photographs made by Watkins when he returned to the Valley in the late 1870s show a photographer who has evolved from skillful documentarian to masterful artist, working with his mammoth-plate camera in a more conceptual way. Photographs from this ‘New Series’ of Yosemite, exemplified by the photograph offered here, are characterized above all by stylistic deliberation. Far scarcer than Watkins’s work from the 1860s, the ‘New Series’ expands Watkins’s importance to the photography of the nineteenth century. As Martha Sandweiss describes the present image, it ‘is less a statement about a distinct place than it is a brilliant study in abstract form . . . The photograph breaks down into three powerful shapes: the sky, the distant mountain walls, and the dark form of the rock formation which, despite its foreground position, seems to recede into distant space. It is elegant, simple, bold’ (in Palmquist, pp. xv-xvi).
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