Sotheby's New York, 28 April 2004, Sale 7987, Lot 173
Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, 2005
Merle Armitage, Art of Edward Weston (New York, 1932), p. 11
Ben Maddow, Edward Weston: His Life and Photographs (Millerton, 1973), p. 69
Jennifer A. Watts, ed., Edward Weston, A Legacy (San Marino: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, 2003), p. 94
Brett Abbott, ed. Edward Weston's Book of Nudes (The J. Paul Getty Museum and Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, 2007), pl. 7
Paul Martineau, Still Life in Photography (The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2010), pl. 35
The significance of Weston’s shell photographs to his oeuvre and to the history of twentieth-century art cannot be overstated. His photographs of shells arranged before plain, dark backgrounds exemplify his achievement as an artist. These deceptively simple compositions belie the complexity of their conception, the years of evolution in Weston’s vision, and countless trials with objects before his camera. The shell photographs resonate as strongly today as when they were made, almost a century ago. Weston was keenly attuned to the very special nature of the shell. ‘I am not blind to the sensuous quality in shells,’ he wrote in his daybook in July of 1927, ‘with which they combine the deepest spiritual significance. ‘
The print offered here comes originally from the collection of Weston’s friends Zelda and William Holgers of California. William Holgers, an amateur photographer, was part of the Bay Area’s thriving Camera Club scene before the Second World War and enrolled in the Yosemite photography workshop conducted by Ansel Adams and Weston in 1940. A building contractor by trade, Holgers made improvements to Weston’s house and garage at Wildcat Hill, sometimes in exchange for photographs. Over the years he acquired a small collection of prints by Weston and his circle, one a gift from Weston to celebrate Bill and Zelda’s marriage in 1942. Holgers is perhaps best known in the Weston literature as the photographer of the fine dual portrait of Weston and Charis Wilson that appears on the dust jacket of Wilson’s 1998 memoir, Through Another Lens: My Years with Edward Weston.
Early prints of Shells (7S) are surprisingly scarce. Weston’s negative log in the Center for Creative Photography, Tuscon, records prints numbered 12 through 18, with print 14 and print 15 described later in the log as ‘destroyed.’ Conger locates six prints in institutions, at least three of which are Project Prints. A print of the image was exhibited in Weston’s 1928 show at the East/West Gallery in San Francisco and may have been in the Film und Foto show in Stuttgart in 1929. It was included in his retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art in 1946. But few early prints have appeared at auction. The beautiful state of this particular print, combined with the Holgers provenance, make this an exceptional example of the series.
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