Lot 10
  • 10

Imogen Cunningham 1883-1976

200,000 - 300,000 USD
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  • Imogen Cunningham
mounted, signed by the photographer in pencil on the mount, her 'Photograph by Imogen Cunningham, Mills College P. O., California, Title/Process/Price' label, with typed title and 'Bromide enlargement,' on the reverse, matted, 1920s


Edwynn Houk Gallery, Chicago

Acquired by Margaret W. Weston from the above, 1985


Monterey Museum of Art, Passion and Precision: Photographs from the Collection of Margaret W. Weston, January - April 2003


Passion and Precision: Photographs from the Collection of Margaret W. Weston (Monterey Museum of Art, 2003, in conjunction with the exhibition), p. 42 (this print)

Other prints made from the same negative:

Richard Lorenz, Imogen Cunningham: Ideas without End, A Life in Photographs (San Francisco, 1993), pl. 19 (similar cropping)

Margery Mann, Imogen Cunningham: Photographs (Seattle, 1970), p. 8 (similar cropping)

Imogen Cunningham: The Modernist Years (Tokyo, 1993), unpaginated (horizontal format)

Richard Lorenz, Imogen Cunningham: 1883-1976 (Köln, 2001), p. 222 (horizontal format)

Another Amphitheatre image:

Nissan N. Perez, Beyond Time: Photographs from the Gary B. Sokol Collection (The Israel Museum, 2006, in conjunction with the exhibition), p. 42 (horizontal in format)

Catalogue Note

Imogen Cunningham's Amphitheatre No. 2 is perhaps the best-known of several images the photographer made of the amphitheatre at Mills College, Oakland, and is an example of her early application of modernist principles to her work.  Printed on photographic paper with a glossy surface, allowing a greater rendering of detail, the photograph offered here is exemplary of the sharply-focused work Cunningham embarked upon in the 1920s.   Radically cropped from a larger negative, and rigorously composed, this photograph shows Cunningham approaching the medium with complete confidence and control.   

Cunningham is known to have made a number of different photographs of the amphitheatre at Mills College, where her husband, the artist Roi Partridge, began teaching in 1920.  Three of these were made from roughly the same vantage point; these are horizontal in format, and show the clean repetitive curves of the stone benches on the left, and a portion of the area directly before the amphitheatre's stage on the right.  Amphitheatre No. 2 is made from one of these negatives, and has been very precisely cropped by Cunningham to eliminate significant portions on the right, left, and bottom of the original frame.  A comparison of Amphitheatre No. 2, which is nearly square in format, with a version of the image printed from the entire negative (cited in the literature above) demonstrates how Cunningham, through careful cropping, has created in this modified format a dynamic composition not offered by the full negative.   Cunningham did print another of her amphitheatre negatives in a full-frame horizontal format: the print from the Gary B. Sokol collection cited above is an example, as is a print offered in these rooms on 16 October 2004 (Sale 8018, Lot 85).  

The exact date of the Amphitheatre images is unclear; they have been dated as variously as circa 1920 and circa 1928.  Cunningham authority, Susan Ehrens, notes that by the 1930s, Cunningham was loaning Amphitheater photographs to numerous important photographic exhibitions.  One appeared in her one-woman show, Impressions in Silver, at the Los Angeles Museum in 1932.  In her notebook, Cunningham lists sending 'Amphitheatre (square)' to an exhibition at the State Library, Stockton, and Fresno State College in 1936; it is very likely that this was a print of the image offered here.  With its concise cropping, abstracted approach to the subject matter, and deft handling of sunlight and shadows, Amphitheatre No. 2 stands as a prescient statement on photography as it was to be practiced, particularly on the West Coast by such photographers as Cunningham, Edward and Brett Weston, and Alma Lavenson, in the following decades.