Lot 85
  • 85

Imogen Cunningham 1883-1976

bidding is closed


  • Imogen Cunningham
matte-surface, signed, titled, and annotated 'printed in the 1920s' by the photographer in pencil in the margin, her '1331 Green St., San Francisco 9' studio stamp on the reverse, matted, circa 1920


Acquired by the present owner from Witkin Gallery, New York, no later than 1974


Horizontal variants:

Richard Lorenz, et al, Imogen Cunningham, 1883-1976 (Taschen, 2001), p. 222

Imogen Cunningham: The Modernist Years (Treville, 1993), unpaginated


Vertical variants:

Richard Lorenz, Ideas Without End (Chronicle Books, 1993), pl. 19

Margery Mann, Imogen Cunningham: Photographs (University of Washington, 1970), pl. 8

Catalogue Note

Among the images that Cunningham made of the amphitheatre at Mills College, Oakland, including vertical and horizontal variants, the view offered here is believed to be one of only five prints of this negative and is not reproduced in any of the extant Cunningham literature. 

By the early 1920s, Cunningham had moved beyond the prevailing Pictorial aesthetics of the day, and her work in this decade is characterized by an impressively experimental approach, drawing influence from a wide range of sources.  As a student in Germany in 1909 and 1910, Cunningham had encountered exhibitions of some of the best European and American photographic work (see Lot 32).  In 1915, she had been particularly impressed by the Italian Futurist work that she saw at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.  From the early 1920s, Cunningham maintained friendships with other progressive West Coast photographers, Edward Weston, Johan Hagemeyer, and Margrethe Mather among them, and corresponded with the expatriate Alvin Langdon Coburn.  Publications as disparate as Alfred Stieglitz’s Camera Work, Vanity Fair magazine, and Das Deutsche Lichtbild were a source of ideas for her.  Her interests in photography and art found their way into her work, and she began to experiment with multiple exposure, innovative framing, and abstraction, leaving behind the atmospheric effects she previously depended upon and that were still being used, to varying degrees, by her fellow photographers at the time. 

With its concise cropping and abstracted approach to the subject matter, Mills College Amphitheatre demonstrates Cunningham’s early grasp of modernist principles in her work.  While she more frequently brought her modernist eye to bear on botanical subject matter and portraits during the early 1920s, this image stands as a prescient statement on photography as it was to be practiced, particularly on the West Coast, for the following decades.

Another print of this image, in the horizontal format and with approximate dimensions, is in the collection of the Monterey Museum of Art, Monterey, California.  The photographer’s Mills College studio label on the reverse of that print gives the annotation  ‘br.[omide] enlargement.’   A typed note from Cunningham to the original owner of the Monterey print, a Mills College graduate named Olga Taylor, describes the image as ‘an attempt at an abstraction using your amphitheatre.’