The photographer to Anita Brenner
By descent to the family of Anita Brenner
Acquired by the present owner from the above
San Francisco, Fraenkel Gallery, 20Twenty, September - November 1999
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Mexico as Muse: Tina Modotti and Edward Weston, September 2006 - January 2007
20Twenty (San Francisco: Fraenkel Gallery, 1999, in conjunction with the exhibition), pl. 3
Other prints of this image:
Amy Conger, Edward Weston in Mexico, 1923-1926 (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1983, in conjunction with the exhibition), pl. 5
Judith Hochburg, Sarah Lowe, Michael Mattis, and Dody Weston Thompson, Edward Weston: Life Work (Revere, 2004), pl. 47
This highly abstract, totemic nude study of Anita Brenner was made by Edward Weston in Mexico in 1925, a significant year in his evolution as a modernist. Weston had come to Mexico two years before, seeking change and renewal. Before leaving California, he had abandoned his soft-focus salon successes in favor of a more geometric, angular style. But it was his Mexican experience that accelerated, and then completed, his transition into modernism, setting the stage for the great works of his mature career. The nude offered here, in its composition, its simplicity, and its boldness, signals the influence that Mexico exerted on Weston's oeuvre.
The present image is one of a series of 15 negatives Weston made of Brenner on November 11th, 1925. In his journal the following day, Weston wrote,
'Yesterday I "created" the finest series of nudes I have ever done, and in no exalted state of mind. I was shaving when A[nita] came, hardly expecting her . . . I made excuses, having no desire--no "inspiration" to work. I dragged out my shaving, hinting that the light was poor, that she would shiver in the unheated room. But she took no hints, undressing while I reluctantly prepared my camera.
'And then appeared to me the most exquisite lines, forms, volumes. And I accepted, working easily, rapidly, surely' (Daybooks, Mexico, 12 November 1925).
The next day, Weston reviewed the negatives and confirmed his first impression: 'I made fifteen negatives of A. Eight I may finish, six most surely. My first enthusiasm has not abated, I was not unduly excited. Under cool reconsideration, they retain their importance as my finest set of nudes--that is, in their approach to aesthetically stimulating form' (ibid., 13 November 1925).
Weston's colleagues agreed: 'The nudes of A. have caused more comment than any work I have done,' he wrote in his daybook. 'All the group of friends,--Diego, Jean, Rafael, Monna, Felipe showing much enthusiasm' (ibid., 22 November 1925).
The sitter, the writer Anita Brenner (1905 - 1974), was a member of Weston's and Modotti's circle of friends in Mexico City, a group that included Diego Rivera, Jean Charlot, Nahui Olin, and others. A month before the present nude was made, Brenner, at the age of twenty-one, had just published an article, 'Edward Weston nus muestra nuevas modalidades de su talento' in the Revista de Revistas for 4 October 1925 (cf. Conger, Edward Weston in Mexico, p. 88, note 25). Born in Mexico, Brenner had been brought to the United States as a child, at the start of the Mexican Revolution, in 1910. Although Brenner was raised and educated in the United States, she thought of herself as Mexican. Among her best-known writings are two volumes: Idols Behind Altars (New York, 1929), an examination of Mexican culture, and The Wind that Swept Mexico (Austin, 1934), a history of the Mexican Revolution. For Idols Behind Altars, Brenner commissioned Weston to make photographs of Mexican crafts, paintings, and antiquities, a project that provided him with needed financial support and the opportunity to travel throughout the country.
Stylistically, Weston saw the nudes of Anita Brenner as the further evolution of a series of nudes he had made some months earlier: those of Miriam Lerner, with whom he had been romantically involved (see Lots 4, 6, 187, and 188). In April 1926, he wrote to Lerner of these new Brenner studies: '[I have made] nudes too that are the best I have done, so far as simplified form is concerned. They are the logical progressions from those I made of you . . .' (quoted in Conger, ibid., p. 38). Both sets of nudes are distinguished by their reduced forms, their headless torsos, their minimal backgrounds. In the most simplified of each, specific anatomy has become universal. As Charis Wilson said of Weston's later nudes, 'You don't doubt that these are real bodies in action, but many of them have a timeless, sculptural quality that suggests hieroglyphics of the human form' (Edward Weston Nudes, p. 114).
Charis Wilson's reference to hieroglyphics, the pictorial symbols of an earlier civilization, resonates with Weston's studies of Anita Brenner's back and their links to Mexican culture. The exotic experience of Mexico was for Weston what Polynesia was for Gauguin, a realm of fantasy and freedom beyond 'civilized' society and its constructs. Had Weston been a painter or a sculptor, the nude offered here would be classified as Primitivism, the time-honored tradition of inspiration drawn from earlier, simpler cultures. Picasso and Catalan sculpture, Gauguin and Tahiti, Matisse and Henry Moore with African objects, the list is almost endless. In the photograph offered here, Brenner has assumed the formality and rounded forms of an Aztec goddess. Her pose also reflects that of a primitive, earlier society: not the proper crossed legs of a Western model, but legs open and drawn up, arms around knees.
The formal and austere simplicity of the image offered here has been reinforced by Weston's own handwork. Immediately after the sitting with Brenner, Weston realized that the background of the image contained distracting details, which he then retouched from the negative, creating a dark, plain background that throws the seated figure into stark relief. A comparison of the present image with a gelatin silver print from the unretouched negative, now in the collection of Judith Hochberg and Michael Mattis, reveals that Weston also altered the sitter's neck and elbows, smoothing their angles to reflect the sensuous curves of her back. In the past, as a Pictorialist and professional portraitist, Weston had retouched and altered both negatives and prints to achieve a softer, more painterly atmosphere. In the case of the nude study offered here, Weston has retouched and altered the negative in the service of modernism.
According to Weston authority Amy Conger, prints of 12 poses from the Brenner nude series have survived, as well as a contact sheet of the sitting, now in a private collection. At the time of this writing, no other prints of this image in platinum have been located. A gelatin silver print, from the retouched negative, is reproduced in Conger's Edward Weston in Mexico, and is owned by the Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois, Champaign, Illinois. And a silver print from the unretouched negative, referred to above, is in the collection of Judith Hochberg and Michael Mattis.
The print offered here was exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in Mexico as Muse: Tina Modotti and Edward Weston, September 2006 to January 2007. The purchaser of this lot will receive a request for the loan of this print to the exhibition when it is recreated in Mexico City in 2008.
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