Lot 39
  • 39

Imogen Cunningham

120,000 - 180,000 USD
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  • Imogen Cunningham
  • Signed in pencil in the margin
  • Gelatin silver print
  • Approximately 8 1/2 x 12 3/4 inches
signed in pencil in the margin, circa 1928; accompanied by a fragment of the photographer's 'Photograph by Imogen Cunningham, Mills College P. O., California, Title/Process/Price' label, with typed title and 'Br. enlargement' (2)


Beyond Time: Photographs from the Gary B. Sokol Collection (Jerusalem: The Israel Museum, 2006), p. 42

Paul J. Karlstrom, ed., On the Edge of America: California Modernist Art, 1900-1950 (University of California Press, 1996), p. 261, fig. 98

Horizontal variant:

Richard Lorenz, et alImogen Cunningham, 1883-1976 (Cologne, 2001), p. 222

Imogen Cunningham: The Modernist Years (Tokyo, 1993), unpaginated

Vertical variant:

Richard Lorenz, Ideas Without End (San Francisco, 1993), pl. 19

Margery Mann, Imogen Cunningham: Photographs (Seattle, 1970), pl. 8


This rare early print is on the heavy double-weight paper with subtly warm tones and matte surface appropriate for Cunningham's prints from this period. It is in generally excellent condition. A fine patina of silvering is visible in the dark areas at the image periphery. Only visible upon extremely close examination are a few tiny surface scratches in the central and right portion of the print. Faint areas of slightly warmer tonality are also visible upon close examination, primarily in the lower portion of the image. This print has recently undergone minor conservation, and a few expertly-applied deposits of retouching are visible upon very close examination in raking light. This does not in any way detract from the print's fine appearance. A treatment report is available upon request from the department. Each of the print's corners has a tiny pin-hole in the margin.
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, a scarce, early print of Cunningham’s Amphitheatre (Mills College), exemplifies the photographer’s early command of modernist principles in her work.  This dynamic composition – with its clean, repetitive curves, and subtle variation of grey values punctuated by sunlight and shadow – approaches near abstraction. 

Cunningham’s husband, the artist Roi Partridge, began teaching at Mills College in 1920, and Cunningham is known to have made a number of photographs of the campus amphitheatre throughout the late 1920s and 1930s.  Designed by Mills College campus architect Walter Ratcliff, Jr. (1881-1973), the open-air Greek Theatre, pictured here, was opened in 1928.  While Cunningham more frequently brought her modernist eye to bear on botanical subject matter and portraits during the 1920s, Amphitheatre (Mills College) exemplifies the innovative and sharply-focused work she embarked upon in this period.  Cunningham returned to the amphitheater in 1939, using it as the setting for her studies of dancer José Limón posed against the backdrop of the concentric arcs of the theater

Cunningham made several negatives of the amphitheatre at this time, in both horizontal and vertical formats.  Cunningham authority Susan Ehrens notes that by the 1930s, Cunningham was loaning Amphitheatre photographs to numerous exhibitions, including her 1932 one-woman show, Impressions in Silver, at the Los Angeles Museum.  Extant prints from this horizontal negative, however, are rare.  As of this writing, it is believed that only two other prints of this image have been offered at auction: one in 1979 and another in 2004.  Four prints have been located in institutional and private collections, each of a similar size and cropping to the image offered here: in the collection of the Monterey Museum of Art, California; at Harvard’s Fogg Museum, given by gallerist Julien Levy and his wife Jean; in the Lane Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and in the collection of Gary B. Sokol, San Francisco.