Lot 53
  • 53

Paul Outerbridge, Jr.

50,000 - 80,000 USD
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  • Paul Outerbridge, Jr.
  • color carbo print
color carbro print, the photographer's estate stamp, with number '835' in pencil, on the reverse, circa 1938


Sotheby's New York, 26 April 1990, Sale 6004, Lot 141A


Elaine Dines and Graham Howe, Paul Outerbridge: A Singular Aesthetic, Photographs & Drawings 1921-1941 (Laguna Beach Museum of Art, 1981), pl. 449


Although the color carbro process was a complex and difficult method of making a color print, it was the only color process available that met Outerbridge's high standards for image quality. A single print was made from three separate negatives, each sensitive to a different area of the color spectrum. These negatives were then printed onto successive layers of micro-thin translucent carbro tissue that were applied to the final print. Even someone unacquainted with the technical aspects of photography can appreciate the intricacies of the technique from the following statement, made by Outerbridge in 1955: 'In spite of my considerable experience with photography, I wondered for quite a while if I'd ever be able to make a good carbro print. Many of these pictures were made under considerable technical difficulties unknown to the present-day users of the newer, much easier color materials. Each composition cost a minimum of $150 taking many man hours to produce. Three separate exposures of different duration, through three different color filters were required. Subsequently, three separate color images 1/10,000th of an inch thick had to be transferred IN REGISTER, one over another onto the paper you see' (quoted in Howe and Hawkins, Paul Outerbridge, Jr.: Photographs, p. 16). This early color carbro print has the rich, saturated colors and velvety matte surface that are the hallmarks of this sophisticated and exacting process. The photograph is in essentially excellent condition, and the vivid print illustrates Outerbridge's considerable skill with color photographic media. Upon extremely close examination, small deposits of expertly applied original retouching are visible, particularly near the rose in the lower right quadrant. On the reverse of the print are the following notations in an unidentified hand in pencil: 'POC #835'; 'PL# 449'; 'II' (underlined); and '3.'
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

The photograph offered here was made by Paul Outerbridge for the Scott Paper Company and exemplifies his unique talents as a commercial photographer.  Replete with lush roses and a feminine hand delicately caressing unraveling bath tissue, Outerbridge’s vibrant still life elevates and reimagines the otherwise ordinary objects of a housewife’s life.  Created for ScotTissue's 'Petal Soft' slogan, the present image was part of Scott's long and lucrative campaign in the bath tissue industry.  In the 1890s, this venerable Philadelphia company had been the first to market tissue rolls as toilet paper and by the 1920s was selling 67 million rolls a year. 

A Pictorialist turned Modernist, Outerbridge took all that he had learned as a student of the Clarence White School and created a new vocabulary for the world of commercial photography.  Simple objects in unexpected and evocative combinations became a hallmark of his style.  For ScotTissue's 'Petal Soft,' Outerbridge experimented with a number of backgrounds and a variety of flowers, including magnolia blossoms popping against royal blue (Singular Aesthetic, pl. 448) and pink carnations contrasting against lilac.  Another image from this series, with orchids in place of the roses, was published in the March 1940 issue of Good Housekeeping (p. 77).  These accomplished still life arrangements and Outerbridge's mastery of the new color processes kept him in demand both as an advertising photographer and as a printer, and allowed him to command handsome four-figure fees for his advertising assignments (Command Performance, p. 11). 

Outerbridge was one of the progenitors of modern color photography, and he experimented widely with available processes, contributing his own innovations and adaptations.  The print offered here is rendered in the color carbro process, a complex and difficult method of making a color photograph, but one that met Outerbridge's high standards of image quality.  This early color advertising study has the rich, saturated colors and velvety matte surface characteristic of a successful color carbro, made from three different negatives printed in register.  As the carbro process was tricky and time-consuming, however, prints of any image were made in very limited quantities.  At the time of this writing, only one other print of this image is believed to have appeared at auction.