PROPERTY FROM THE MUSEUM OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY, CHICAGO
flush-mounted, signed and dated ‘1933’ by the photographer in ink on the image, signed, titled, and annotated ‘2706 Virginia St, Berkeley, California’ by the photographer in ink and titled in an unidentified hand in pencil and with the Museum’s label and accession number in an unidentified hand in blue pencil on the reverse, 1933, printed no later than May 1936
Gift of the photographer, May 1936
Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Imagination to Image, April – September 1999; and traveling thereafter to The Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University, Milwaukee, September – December 2000; and The Montclair, New Jersey, Art Museum, January – April 2001
Other prints of this image:
U. S. Camera 1935, p. 157
Ansel Adams, How To Do It Series, No. 8: Making a Photograph, An Introduction to Photography (New York, 1935), p. 93
Dorothea Lange (The Museum of Modern Art, 1966), p. 20
Therese Thau Heyman, Celebrating a Collection: The Work of Dorothea Lange (The Oakland Museum, 1978), p. 57
Dorothea Lange: Photographs of a Lifetime (Aperture, 1982), p. 45
Therese Thau Heyman, Sandra S. Phillips, and John Szarkowski, Dorothea Lange: American Photographs (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1994), pl. 1
Karen Tsujimoto, Dorothea Lange, Archive of an Artist (Oakland Museum, 1995), p. 9
Keith F. Davis, The Photographs of Dorothea Lange (Kansas City, 1995), cover and p. 21
Pierre Borhan, Dorothea Lange: The Heart and Mind of a Photographer (Boston, 2002), p. 71
Robert Doty, Photography in America (Whitney Museum of American Art, 1974), p. 144
Barbara Haskell, The American Century: Art and Culture 1900-1950 (Whitney Museum of American Art, 1999), pl. 483
This demonstrably vintage print of Dorothea Lange’s ‘White Angel Breadline’ was given to the Museum of Science and Industry by Lange herself in 1936. In addition to soliciting photographs from the 1933 Century of Progress exhibition, the Museum also expanded its collection by surveying photographic annuals, choosing a range of pictures, and then contacting the photographers of those images for possible donation. Among the annuals surveyed was Tom Maloney’s widely popular U. S. Camera.
Museum records indicate that a number of photographs reproduced in the 1935 U. S. Camera held particular interest for the Museum, including Lange’s ‘White Angel Breadline.’ Lange was contacted, and although we do not have the specifics of her visit, we know that she personally brought a print of ‘White Angel Breadline’ to the Museum. Museum files contain a copy of a letter to Lange from Museum director, O. T. Kreusser, dated 18 May 1936, which reads in part:
‘Dear Miss Lange:
‘On my return to Chicago, I learned with regret that I had missed your visit to the Museum. It would have been a pleasure to have had the opportunity to show you, in more detail, how this new project in public education is being carried on. However, Mr. Mayford tells me that he did what he could to make your visit interesting in the short time at your disposal. . . .
‘Your print, “White Angel Breadline,” has now been duly registered in the Museum’s rapidly growing collection of fine photographs. Your generous cooperation is cordially appreciated.'
In choosing Lange’s ‘White Angel Breadline’ for its collection, the Museum demonstrated remarkable foresight. Taken in 1933, during San Francisco’s depression years, the photograph depicts the dignity and isolation of poverty, as one man turns away from a breadline sponsored by a widow known in the community as ‘the White Angel.’ In 1935, when it was reproduced in U. S. Camera, the photograph, as well as the photographer, had not taken on the significant status they now both enjoy. Indeed, Lange’s ‘Migrant Mother’ had been made only a few months before she visited the Museum in 1936, and was far from the world-famous icon it would later become.
In 1934 and 1935, Lange was relatively little-known, working with Paul Schuster Taylor at the California Rural Rehabilitation Administration, and later with Roy Stryker at the F. S. A. It was not the photographer’s reputation, but the undeniable impact of ‘White Angel Breadline’ that spoke to the readers of the 1935 U. S. Camera annual, including Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. By contacting Lange soon after the photograph appeared in U. S. Camera, the Museum was able to acquire at a very early date a superb print of one of Lange’s best and most important images.
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