Lot 22
  • 22

Ansel Adams

300,000 - 500,000 USD
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  • Ansel Adams
  • gelatin silver
mural-sized, signed with a stylus on the image, flush-mounted to heavy board, signed, titled, and dated in ink on the reverse, framed, 1941, probably printed in the 1960s or around 1970


Acquired by Grapestake Gallery, San Francisco, 1980

Acquired from the above by Andrea Gray Stillman for the Shaklee Terraces Collection, San Francisco, 1980

Acquired by the present owners from the above, 2005


Other prints of this image:

Andrea G. Stillman, Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs (Boston, 2007), p. 175

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


Adams's inscriptions on the reverse of the mount of this photograph are as follows: 'Moonrise, Hernandez. New Mexico 'Ansel Adams [signed] 'Print made about 1970' Adams made most of his mural-sized print in the 1950s and 1960s; 1970 would have been at the very end of this period of production. The thick rigid gray board upon which this photograph is mounted is one of the support materials Adams used for the murals (Masonite was another) in the 1950s and 1960s. By 1970, at least for his more conventionally-sized photographs, Adams had begun using museum-board mounts, and used museum board for a smaller mural-sized print of Moonrise, according to Jim Alinder. The open tonality of the print offered here would seem to suggest an earlier, rather than later, print date. Adams's dating of his own prints and photographs is generally understood to have been erratic. It seems clear that, when Adams signed this photograph in 1980, he was no longer sure of the exact date he printed it; hence his vague wording: 'print made about 1970.' Given the qualities of this print, and its presentation, it is possible that it was made earlier than the date Adams suggests. This commanding mural-sized print is remarkable both for its impressive print quality, and for the higher level of detail visible. Light wisps of clouds are visible in the upper left sky area, and the range of tonality is quite strong. This print may have been varnished, as very faint broad streaks are visible in raking light, primarily near the upper and lower edges. This print is in generally very good condition. In high raking light, to the right of the moon, a number of long vertical scratches are visible, none of which appears to break the emulsion. A few other small scratches or pen-point-sized impressions not breaking the emulsion are also visible throughout the image. Upon close examination, the following are visible: fingerprints in the upper sky area, and occasional tiny to small matte deposits of retouching, likely original, primarily in the sky area. There is minor edge chipping, with tiny losses at the periphery. Along the lower edge, there is a 3/4-inch area where the top layer of emulsion appears to previously have lifted but is now laid down. These small losses are not apparent when viewing the print in its frame. None of these above-mentioned issues are immediately apparent, and they do not detract from the overall impressive quality of this print. The print is on a sturdy, substantial board. On the reverse of the mount, there are abrasions to the top paper-ply, primarily at the periphery. This does not affect the print. On the reverse of the mat, there is an Owen Gallery, New York, label.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

This masterfully-rendered mural-sized print of Adams's best-known image is remarkable for a number of attributes.  Printed in the 1960s, or around 1970, it has an 'open' tonality, especially in the sky area, not typically associated with prints made in this era, or with Adams's mural-sized photographs in general. For all its dramatic size and impact, it is a surprisingly sensitively-rendered print.  Wispy clouds, obscured in other darker prints made in this period, are clearly visible in this print.  The foreground, too, is dominated here by mid-tones and carefully delineated detail.  This print suggests the twilight hour in which the photograph was actually taken late in the afternoon on a fall day in 1941, as opposed to the stark night-time scene portrayed in other prints of Moonrise. 

This print of Moonrise is also unusual in that it is signed by the photographer, not once but twice.  Because Adams typically flush-mounted his murals, and displayed them unmatted in a thin white frame, there was no blank space for his signature.  Typically, these large prints left his studio unsigned.  In later years, upon request, Adams would sometimes sign a mural on the image using a stylus, as he did on the print offered here.  Notably, Adams went further in this instance, and signed, titled, and dated the reverse of the mount in black ink. 

This mural was purchased from a private individual by Grapestake Gallery in San Francisco in 1980.  Grapestake's proprietors, the pioneering photography gallerists Ursula Gropper and Thomas Meyer, were no strangers to Ansel Adams or his work.  Their father, Otto Meyer, once president of Paul Masson Vineyards, was a close friend and patron of Adams, and had hired him to document the construction of the company's champagne cellars.  It was at Gropper's and Meyer's request that Adams signed this mural.   

Adams made few mural-sized prints of Moonrise.  According to Jim Alinder, Adams authority and one-time assistant to Adams, only about 12 have been located at the time of this writing.  Very few murals of any of Adams's images are signed by the photographer.  The fact that the print of Moonrise offered here is signed twice by Adams makes it especially rare.