Paul J. Karlstrom, ed., On the Edge of America: California Modernist Art, 1900-1950 (University of California Press, 1996), p. 261, fig. 98
Richard Lorenz, et al, Imogen Cunningham, 1883-1976 (Cologne, 2001), p. 222
Imogen Cunningham: The Modernist Years (Tokyo, 1993), unpaginated
Richard Lorenz, Ideas Without End (San Francisco, 1993), pl. 19
Margery Mann, Imogen Cunningham: Photographs (Seattle, 1970), pl. 8
Cunningham’s husband, the artist Roi Partridge, began teaching at Mills College in 1920, and Cunningham is known to have made a number of photographs of the campus amphitheatre throughout the late 1920s and 1930s. Designed by Mills College campus architect Walter Ratcliff, Jr. (1881-1973), the open-air Greek Theatre, pictured here, was opened in 1928. While Cunningham more frequently brought her modernist eye to bear on botanical subject matter and portraits during the 1920s, Amphitheatre (Mills College) exemplifies the innovative and sharply-focused work she embarked upon in this period. Cunningham returned to the amphitheater in 1939, using it as the setting for her studies of dancer José Limón posed against the backdrop of the concentric arcs of the theater.
Cunningham made several negatives of the amphitheatre at this time, in both horizontal and vertical formats. Cunningham authority Susan Ehrens notes that by the 1930s, Cunningham was loaning Amphitheatre photographs to numerous exhibitions, including her 1932 one-woman show, Impressions in Silver, at the Los Angeles Museum. Extant prints from this horizontal negative, however, are rare. As of this writing, it is believed that only two other prints of this image have been offered at auction: one in 1979 and another in 2004. Four prints have been located in institutional and private collections, each of a similar size and cropping to the image offered here: in the collection of the Monterey Museum of Art, California; at Harvard’s Fogg Museum, given by gallerist Julien Levy and his wife Jean; in the Lane Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and in the collection of Gary B. Sokol, San Francisco.
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