Lot 143
  • 143

Paul Outerbridge, Jr. 1896-1958

bidding is closed


  • Paul Outerbridge, Jr.
platinum print, mounted, signed and dated '1923-4' by the photographer in pencil on the mount, 1923-24


The Paul Outerbridge Estate

To G. Ray Hawkins Gallery, Los Angeles

Acquired by a New York collector from the above, 1980

Acquired by Mark Isaacson, New York, from the above, 1988

To the current owner


Graham Howe and G. Ray Hawkins, Paul Outerbridge, Jr: Photographs (New York, 1980), p. 55 (this print)

Another print of this image:

Elaine Dines, Paul Outerbridge: A Singular Aesthetic (Laguna Beach Museum of Art, 1981), cat. no. 151

Catalogue Note

Paul Outerbridge printed his photographs in limited quantities, and it is typical to find even his most celebrated images represented by a small number of prints.  Aside from the print of Ethiopian Form offered here, only one other print of the image has appeared at auction: an unsigned, unmounted gelatin silver print, in a larger format, sold in October 1997 (Christie’s New York, Sale 8748, Lot 87).  A platinum print of the same subject, entitled Sleepy Negro (Dines, pl. 84, cat. no 44), clearly made at the same sitting but focusing more closely upon the subject’s head and torso, was sold in April 1996 (Christie's New York, Sale 8390, Lot 292).  As of this writing, the print of Ethiopian Form offered here is the only signed platinum print of the image that has been located.   

With its sensitive depiction of a black male nude, beautifully rendered in the platinum print process, Outerbridge’s Ethiopian Form is reminiscent of the series of studies F. Holland Day made of black men in the last years of the 19th century.  It is likely that Outerbridge encountered Day’s work while a student at the Clarence White School of Photography, which he attended in 1921 and 1922.  Although Day had ceased photographing by the 1920s, examples of his work had been reproduced, in sumptuous photogravure reproductions, in Camera Notes, the fine-art photography journal published between 1897 and 1903 and piloted early-on by Alfred Stieglitz. 

Two of Day’s photographs in particular may have influenced Outerbridge’s Ethiopian Form, in terms of subject matter and title.  These are An Ethiopian Chief, published in 1897 (Vol. 1, No. 2), and Ebony and Ivory, published in 1898 (Vol. 2, No. 1).  Day’s photographs picture partially nude and nude young black men, respectively, the former crowned and posed with a staff, the latter nude and holding a small white statue.  Day’s allusion to a romanticized Africa in the first of these studies, and his emphasis in the title of the second upon the conventional artistic comparison between light and dark, may have been an attempt to traditionalize what would have been, at that time, risqué subject matter for a photographer.  Working two decades later, Outerbridge had to contend with a degree of public propriety that was only slightly less strident.  Yet, in Ethiopian Form, he has stripped the allegory from this thoroughly modern photograph in every respect except for the title.