Sotheby’s to Present Private Collection of Ansel Adams Photographs

Sotheby’s recently announced that they will offer A Grand Vision: The David H. Arrington Collection of Ansel Adams Masterworks in a live auction at Sotheby’s New York on 14 December.

A comprehensive survey that spans six decades of the beloved artist’s unparalleled career, from 1915 to 1975, the David H. Arrington Collection is among the most significant collections of Adams’ photography in private hands.

This curated selection of more than 100 of Adams’s most iconic photographs features dozens of early prints, murals, and portfolios, and is led by Adams’ most legendary work, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (estimate $700,000/$1 million), the earliest print of the image to come to market. The auction is a watershed moment for collectors of Adams photographs, as well as collectors of American masters.

Emily Bierman, Head of Sotheby’s Photographs Department in New York, commented: “It is our immense privilege to bring David H. Arrington’s important collection of Ansel Adams photographs to the global collecting community.  The Arrington Collection was assembled with a true passion for the medium and a deep understanding of Adams’ extraordinary seven-decade career.  With his laser focus on print quality and condition, Mr Arrington added only the best examples to the collection, from small jewel-like prints of the 1920s to mammoth mural-sized prints of the 1950s and 1960s.  His focus on collecting only the most superb prints is apparent when viewing the sumptuous early print of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, an unequivocal masterpiece in the history of art that rivals any blue-chip painting.”


Auction: 14 December

Recognized during his lifetime as the preeminent landscape photographer of the 20th century, Ansel Adams (1902-1984) captured, the majesty and grandeur of the American West. His striking black and white images—as impressive for their technical virtuosity as for the poetry of their breathtaking vistas—express reverence for both the beauty of wilderness and the power of the photographic medium. An outspoken environmentalist, Adams served as the director of the Sierra Club for nearly forty years and is particularly well-known for his iconic images of Yosemite National Park. A staunch advocate for his chosen medium, Adams wrote and lectured extensively, co-founded the group f/64 and helped to establish the Department of Photography at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. A three-time recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, he was named to President Lyndon Johnson’s task force on the environment in 1965.  In 1980, President Jimmy Carter bestowed upon Adams the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. Today, photographs by Adams reside in innumerable museum collections, including The Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C., SFMOMA (in his birthplace of San Francisco), and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The David H. Arrington Collection of Ansel Adams Masterworks grew out of the lifelong passion of Arrington, a native Texan who currently serves as President of Arrington Oil & Gas Operating LLC. Born and raised in the Dallas community of Oak Cliff, Arrington developed a deep interest in photography as a teenager when he began taking pictures and studying the work of Ansel Adams to improve his technique and skills. In his late twenties, he started collecting Adams’ work, a pursuit which over the decades gave rise to one of the largest and most important privately-held collections of work by the photographer. Highlights from the collection have been exhibited widely, including in Ansel Adams: Classic Images (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), Ansel Adams at 100 (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, travelling thereafter to The Art Institute of Chicago, the Hayward Gallery, Berlin’s Kunstbibliothek, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The Museum of Modern Art), Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams, Natural Affinities (The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum), Photography From the Mountains to the Sea (The Royal Museums Greenwich), and Ansel Adams: Eloquent Light, at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art.

Leading the sale is the sublime early print of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (estimate $700,000/$1 million). Printed near the time of the negative in late 1941 or early 1942, it is the earliest known print of this iconic image to come to market, and among only a handful of prints made prior to 1948 when Adams refixed his negative. The photograph exhibits the exceptional detail, subtlety of tone, and open foreground that characterize Adams’ earliest prints. In the following decades, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico became Adams’ most requested photograph and the image for which he is best remembered today.

Sotheby's to Present Largest Private Collection of Ansel Adams Photographs

In his autobiography, Adams stated, “I knew that it was special when I released the shutter, but I never anticipated what its reception would be over the decades. Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico is my most well-known photograph. I have received more letters about this picture than any other I have made, and I must repeat that Moonrise is most certainly not a double exposure.”

In the late afternoon of November 1, 1941, while he was photographing in the Southwest on behalf of the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U. S. Potash Company of New Mexico, Adams passed the tiny town of Hernandez. Struck by the quality of light, Adams pulled the car to the side of the road and hastily assembled his equipment. He made his exposure in the day’s last moments without the benefit of his light meter. Before he had the chance to make a second exposure, the sun sank behind a bank of clouds, and (in his words) “the magical moment was gone forever.” The image perfectly captures a fleeting and ephemeral quality that gives the work its potency and power.

Adams took his first photographs of Yosemite National Park, a site to which he would return every year for the rest of his life, as a teenager on a family trip. After training as a concert pianist in the 1920s, Adams continued to photograph Yosemite while working as a custodian at the Sierra Club’s lodge. During the 1930s and early 1940s, Adams made many photographs from Inspiration Point, culminating in his 1938 Clearing Winter Storm.

Adams’ first foray into making mural-sized photographs came in 1935 when he was asked by his employer at the time, the Yosemite Park & Curry Company, to undertake a series of murals of Yosemite for the San Diego Exposition of that year. He became an articulate spokesman for the form. About murals, Adams wrote, “I was fascinated with the challenge of making a photographic print in grand scale. Many of my large-format Yosemite negatives took on a new resonance in mural-sized proportions.”

The mammoth, mural-sized print of Yosemite Valley from Inspiration Point, Winter, Yosemite National Park (estimate $70/100,000) was one of a series executed in the mid-1950s for the American Trust Company for its offices on Montgomery Street in San Francisco. These murals were printed in sections by the Moulin Studios or General Graphics in San Francisco. The sections were so large that they were developed in mammoth trays, then mounted with wheat paste to Homasote board. The American Trust Company was later acquired by Wells Fargo Bank, and only a handful of murals remain in Wells Fargo branches today.

Sotheby's to Present Largest Private Collection of Ansel Adams Photographs

Grand Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942 (estimate $400/600,000), is one of Adams’ defining images and is offered here in awe-inspiring scale. Photographed on commission for the Department of the Interior, this dramatic view of the mountains over Jackson Hole is believed to be one of less than 10 mural-sized prints of this image in existence. Another mural-sized print, Aspens, New Mexico [Vertical] from 1958 (estimate $250/350,000) is one of only a handful to have appeared on the market.

Sotheby's to Present Largest Private Collection of Ansel Adams Photographs

Portfolios offered in the sale include two of Adams’ most sought-after, Portfolio VI (estimate $50/70,000) and Portfolio VII (estimate $80/120,000). Also included are both the 1929 and 1930 editions of The Sierra Club Outing (each estimated $50/70,000); Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras from 1927 (estimate $50/70,000); and Taos Pueblo of 1930 (estimate $30/50,000).

The sale also features notable early prints including rare images from the 1920s and ‘30s. These include Grand Canyon (estimate $20/30,000); Helmet Rock, Coast of San Francisco, presented in Adams’ original frame (estimate $20/30,000); Merced Peak from Red Peak, Yosemite, California, one of Adams’ earliest images taken while on a climbing expedition in Yosemite (estimate $5/7,000); and an image of a ceremonial Native American dance taken during one of Adams’ trips to the Southwest, Eagle Dance, San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico (estimate $10/20,000).


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