Lot 17
  • 17

Ansel Adams 1902-1984

bidding is closed


  • Ansel Adams
  • moonrise, hernandez, new mexico
mounted to Strathmore board, signed by the photographer in pencil on the mount, matted, 1941, printed in 1948


Acquired from the photographer, 1948


Other prints of this image:

Karen E. Haas and Rebecca A. Senf, Ansel Adams in the Lane Collection (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2005, in conjunction with the exhibition), pl. 37

Ansel Adams (Morgan & Morgan, 1972), pl. 63

Ansel Adams, Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs (Boston, 2002), p. 40

John Szarkowski, Ansel Adams at 100 (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2001, in conjunction with the exhibition), pl. 96

Andrea Gray Stillman, ed., Ansel Adams: The Grand Canyon and the Southwest (Boston, 2000), frontispiece

James Alinder and John Szarkowski, Ansel Adams: Classic Images, (Boston, 1985), pl. 32

Robert Doty, ed., Photography in America (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1974), pp. 130-31

Therese Mulligan and David Wooters, Photography from 1839 to Today, George Eastman House (Köln, 2000), p. 643

Martha A. Sandweiss, Masterworks of American Photography: The Amon Carter Museum Collection (Birmingham, 1982), pl. 125

Catalogue Note

The print of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico offered here is one of the very few prints Adams made of his most famous image in the 1940s.  Made in 1948, the year that Pirkle Jones acquired it from the photographer, this print exhibits the subtlety of tone and high level of detail in the sky that characterizes the handful of prints Adams made of the image before the turn of the decade. 

Adams made the 8-by-10-inch negative for Moonrise in the late afternoon of November 1, 1941, while photographing in the Southwest on behalf of the U. S. Department of the Interior and the U. S. Potash Company of New Mexico.  Driving back to their motel after an unproductive day of photographing, Adams and his companions – son Michael and fellow photographer Cedric Wright – passed the tiny town of Hernandez.  Struck by the quality of light upon the town and its attendant cemetery, Adams immediately pulled the car over to the side of the road and hastily assembled his equipment.  Drawing upon his vast reservoir of photographic expertise, Adams made his exposure in the dying light without the benefit of his light meter.  Before he had the chance to make a second exposure, the sun sank behind a bank of clouds, and the light changed completely.  A full account of the taking of Moonrise, and its subsequent printing history, appears in Mary Street Alinder’s Ansel Adams: A Biography (New York, 1996), to which this catalogue entry is indebted. 

The resulting negative, made quickly and under trying conditions, proved difficult to print.  In order to make a print from it that met his high standards, Adams had to expend a great deal of time and energy in the darkroom coaxing the image through the printing process.  Because of this, Adams made only a few prints of the image in the early 1940s.  One was made for his friend Beaumont Newhall, Curator of Photography at The Museum of Modern Art.  This print, now in MoMA’s collection, was used by Edward Steichen for reproduction in the 1943 U. S. Camera Annual.  Much handled over the years, the print is visibly worn.  Adams also made a print of the negative at David McAlpin’s request, and this is now in the collection of Princeton University Art Museum.  It is believed that there are two other early prints in private collections. 

Although Adams was reluctant to print the troublesome negative, by 1948 he had amassed a number of orders for it (most likely due to its publication in the Camera Annual).  Unwilling to toil further with the negative as it was, Adams undertook the harrowing step, in December of 1948, of reprocessing it.  After re-fixing and washing the negative, Adams submerged it up to the horizon line in Kodak IN-5 intensifier.  This increased the density in the image’s foreground making it comparatively easier to print.   That month, using his improved negative, Adams made a small number of prints, including the one offered here, owned by his assistant and friend, the photographer Pirkle Jones. 

Other prints made at this time include a print given by Adams to George Waters, inscribed and dated ‘1948’ by Adams on the reverse, now in the collection of the Getty Museum.  Another print, inscribed by Adams to Fred Ludekins, was offered in these rooms on 7 April 1998 (Sale 7112, Lot 101).  Adams sent a print to Beaumont Newhall and his wife Nancy, and this is now in a private collection.  Also in private collection is a print Adams made for a Mrs. Nichols.     

The tonal qualities of the few prints Adams made of Moonrise during the 1940s differ from those made later.  Early prints show numerous wispy clouds in the sky, in addition to a lustrous band of white above the mountains.   Adams printed this image with greater and greater contrast throughout his career, and his last prints show a dark black sky, differing radically from the more open, gray sky in the present print. 

Sotheby’s wishes to thank Andrea Gray Stillman for sharing her research on extant early prints of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico