The photographer to an assistant, circa 1974
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1975-76
Other prints of this image:
John Szarkowski, Walker Evans (The Museum of Modern Art, 1971, in conjunction with the exhibition), p. 77
Jeff L. Rosenheim, Maria Morris Hambourg, Douglas Eklund, and Mia Fineman, Walker Evans (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000, in conjunction with the exhibition), pl. 46
Peter Galassi, Walker Evans & Company (The Museum of Modern Art, 2000, in conjunction with the exhibition), pl. 42
John T. Hill, Walker Evans at Work (New York, 1982), p. 110
Gilles Mora and John T. Hill, Walker Evans: The Hungry Eye (New York, 1993), p. 131
Walker Evans: First and Last (New York, 1978), p. 125
Ellen Fleurov, Walker Evans, Simple Secrets: Photographs from the Collection of Marian and Benjamin A. Hill (Atlanta: High Museum of Art, 1997, in conjunction with the exhibition), p. 81
Belinda Rathbone, Walker Evans: A Biography (Boston, 1995), unpaginated
The photograph offered here is perhaps the most iconic of Walker Evans's studies of antebellum architecture. While it is widely reproduced, prints of this image that predate later portfolio prints are rare. As of this writing, it is believed that only one other early print of this image has appeared at auction: an unsigned, unstamped print, originally given by Evans to The Museum of Modern Art in 1970, that was sold in these rooms on 22 October 2002 (Photographs from The Museum of Modern Art, Sale 7851, Lot 64).
Breakfast Room, Belle Grove Plantation, was included in Evans's landmark 1938 American Photographs exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, although it is one of thirteen photographs from the exhibition that were not published in the 1938 volume of the same title. Evans took this image during a two-month photographic trip to the South in 1935 made at the behest of Charles Fuller, a wealthy young New York architect who had earlier commissioned Evans to photograph Greek Revival structures in New York state. Fuller, with financial backing from his friend Gifford Cochrane, planned to publish a book on the disappearing plantation houses of the Old South.
Belle Grove plantation, in Iberville Parish, Louisiana, was designed in 1857 by the architect John Gallier, Jr., for the wealthy Virginia planter John Andrews. Its seventy-five rooms, fine neo-classical woodwork, numerous balconies, and silver doorknobs made it one of the most extravagant Greek Revival Structures of its day. Evans visited the long-derelict plantation in the company of Christine Fairchild, an architect with the Works Progress Administration, and the painter Jane Ninas, whom Evans later married. Evans took several pictures of the house's façade before Ninas and Fairchild discovered a way to break into the house. Evans made only this exposure inside the house, in a large, empty, pink-painted room that, Evans's original title notwithstanding, has been more correctly identified by photographer and curator Richard Pare as a drawing room on the house's first floor.
As is frequently the case with Walker Evans's photographs, it is difficult to establish a definitive printing date for the photograph offered here. A visual examination of the photographic paper reveals silvering and other signs of age appropriate for an older print. Further, the matte-surface paper upon which this photograph is printed differs from the glossier paper Evans favored in the 1960s and beyond. Indeed, the object quality of the present print is very similar to that of the above-mentioned early print of this image, sold in these rooms, formerly in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art. According to Judith Keller, in Walker Evans: The Getty Museum Collection (J. Paul Getty Museum, 1995), the photographer used the York Avenue stamp present on the reverse of the print offered here from around 1963 to 1971. It seems likely, however, that the print predates that span of time.
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