Lot 80
  • 80

Imogen Cunningham

Estimate
70,000 - 100,000 USD
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Description

  • Imogen Cunningham
  • 'NUDES' (TWO SISTERS)
  • Gelatin silver print
mounted, signed and dated in pencil on the mount, the photographer's '1331 Green Street, San Francisco 9' letterpress studio label, with typed title and date, on the reverse, framed, a Whitney Museum of American Art exhibition label on the reverse, 1928, probably printed in 1930s or 1940s

Provenance

Acquired from the photographer, 1971

Exhibited

San Francisco, California Academy of Sciences, The Photography of Imogen Cunningham: A Centennial Selection, 1983, and traveling to 15 venues through 1986

New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, The American Century: Art & Culture 1900-2000, April - August 1999

Literature

Barbara Haskell,The American Century: Art & Culture, 1900-1950 (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1999), fig. 395 (this print)
Richard Lorenz, Imogen Cunningham: Ideas without End (San Francisco, 1993), pl. 55
Richard Lorenz, Imogen Cunningham: On the Body (Boston, 1998), pl. 35

Condition

This lovely early print, on paper with a slight surface sheen, is in generally excellent condition. Upon very close examination in high raking light, a few tiny deposits of expertly applied original retouching are visible near the upper right edge and at the left sitter's breast. Also visible only in raking light are 3 very small linear impressions in the right sitter's torso. There are 2 faint fingerprints along the lower mount edge. The present photograph was originally not mounted. At the time of acquisition and at the present owner’s request, the print here offered was placed on a modern mount and signed and dated by Cunningham.
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.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING CONDITION OF A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD "AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF SALE PRINTED IN THE CATALOGUE.

Catalogue Note

The subjects of this 1928 image are two sisters, Helen and Jackie Greaves, who were students at Mills College when the photograph was taken.  The sitting took place in Edward Weston's Glendale studio, and a number of studies were made.  In addition to the study offered here, there was a photograph taken of Jackie Greaves alone (reproduced in Richard Lorenz's Imogen Cunningham: Frontiers, fig. 45), another of one of the sisters alone, of the two sisters in a different pose (Lorenz, Cunningham: On the Body, figs. 23 and 24), and a variety of images of the two sisters in seated and reclining positions (Taschen Editions, Imogen Cunningham, pls. 42, 44, and 45), among others.  The most famous image to emerge from this session is Imogen Cunningham's signature nude study, 'Triangles.'  All were made from 4-by-5-inch negatives.

The present photograph shows Cunningham in what is perhaps the final phase of her transition from Pictorialism to modernism.  The diffuse focus and narrative themes of her turn-of-the-century nudes have here given way to a rigorous composition of angles, shadows, and shapes.

This masterfully-rendered print exhibits a greater range of tones than is customarily seen in later prints of this image.  Rigorously trained in the science of photography and technically proficient in the darkroom, it is likely that Cunningham pre-exposed, or pre-fogged, the paper to achieve this effect.  The resultant loss of true white in the highlights gives these tones a subtle silver-gray cast, and reveals an extraordinary level of detail in the shadows.

Early prints of any of the Greaves sisters series are scarce.  The only lifetime print of this image to appear at auction in the past two decades was offered in these rooms on 14 October 2008 (Sale 8475, Lot 18).  At the time of this writing, no lifetime prints of this image have been located in institutional collections.