Of the hundreds of art photographs coming onto the
market in April — at galleries; sales at Sotheby's, Christie's and
Phillips; and the Association of International Photography Art Dealers
fair in New York — one offering stands out.
On April 11 Christie's is scheduled to sell about
200 silver-gelatin Ansel Adams prints from a corporate collection in
California. It is among the largest Adams collections in private hands.
Many of the photographs date from a period when Adams furnished images
for the Fremont General Corporation, a financial services holding
company. In 1969, just before the company moved into a new building in
Santa Monica, James A. McIntyre, then chief executive officer, wrote
Adams to tell him he wanted to use his photographs to decorate the
headquarters. This began a close collaboration that lasted from 1970 to
"Adams went to the offices to inspect them and even wanted to dictate
the colors for the walls," said Laura Paterson, a photography specialist
at Christie's. "He involved himself with the framing, lighting,
placement and spacing of his images.
"The collection includes every single significant piece in his career,
including photos taken before Adams decided he was going to be a
photographer. He was considering becoming a professional concert pianist
until he photographed 'Monolith, the Face of Half-Dome' in 1927. The
grandeur of nature had a real creative impact on him."
The portfolio from the 1920s entitled "Parmelian Prints of the High
Sierras" and some of the other portfolios in the sale are vintage prints
— that is, prints made fairly soon after the creation of the original
"A print made 20 years later is not a vintage print," said Robert Mann,
the owner of a Manhattan photo gallery and an Adams specialist since
1977. "Vintage prints only come up for sale from time to time, and they
often have more personality, because Ansel would have spent time on them
getting the results he wanted. Today seasoned collectors want the
earliest rendition of an image."
So-called later prints were created in multiples. The majority of prints
at Christie's were printed between 1970 and 1975, specifically for the
"Most prints are later prints, which is not a problem," Mr. Mann said.
"It is often the case, especially with enlargements or mural prints."
The sale at Christie's includes 23 mural-size prints of popular Adams
works like "Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite Valley," "Moonrise,
Hernandez, New Mexico" and "Aspens, Northern New Mexico." In 2006 Pirkle
Jones, a former assistant to Adams, consigned a "Moonrise" print from
1948 to Sotheby's; it sold for $609,600, a world auction record for
Adams. The estimate was $150,000 to $250,000. (Coincidentally, on April 8
Sotheby's is selling two smaller prints of Adams's "Clearing," both
made from a negative from around 1938.)
Ms. Paterson calls the mural print of "Clearing Winter Storm" "the jewel
in the crown" in her sale. (The estimate is $250,000 to $350,000.)
Measuring 40 by 54 inches, the image captures a storm as the weather
begins to change, with the foreground clear of clouds.
Adams wrote about it in 1983 in his book "Examples: The Making of 40
Photographs": "It is a fairly strong negative and looks like one that
would be easy to print. It is not. A certain amount of dodging and
burning was required to achieve the tonal balance demanded by my
Ms. Paterson said the high definition of surface detail in such a large
print was what made it remarkable. "There is very little of the
fuzziness one might expect," she said. "It's sparkling and has texture."
Mr. Mann, who has seen the work, was equivocal. "Mural prints are
pretty rare," he said. "Those in good shape tend to do well. I found the
'Clearing' unusually grainy."
Andrew Smith, a dealer in Santa Fe, N.M., who has specialized in Adams
prints for 33 years, said the graininess might have been intentional.
"Ansel liked a variety of final outcomes," he said. "He could change the
range of tones or pick a different exposure. He was a master
The consigner in the Christie's sale is anonymous, but several dealers
said it was Fremont General, which moved its offices to Brea, Calif., in
February. A spokesman for the company would not comment on the
provenance of the images.
Can the market absorb so many Adams prints at one time?
"Almost no museums have Adams collections as broad as this," Mr. Smith
said. "This sale has 50 to 60 of the lesser-known images, which are not
Mr. Mann said, "Works by Adams are blue chip, and this collection will
have a strong appeal to individual collectors because there is so much
Estimates start at $8,000. The presale view begins April 4 and ends April 8.
The 21st European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht, the Netherlands, runs
from Friday through March 16. Many of the Americans among the
approximately 70,000 annual visitors to the fair come because about 100
of the 227 exhibitors specialize in antiques and decorative arts, more
than at any other international fair.
For example, this year George Laue of Munich has 45 German collectors'
cabinets made in the 16th and 17th centuries. H. Blairman & Sons of
London has a William Burges Gothic Revival cabinet with a portrait of
Dante. Philippe Denys of Brussels has an Arne Jacobsen vintage leather
Ox chair from Denmark. And the longtime British dealer Peter Finer has a
dazzling set of finely embellished and polished steel field armor,
dated 1549, from Brunswick, Germany.
"The Brunswick armor etchers of the mid-16th century were artists of the
highest order," Mr. Finer said. "Their characteristically rich and busy
style involved an unusual mixture of biblical, classical, sporting and
heraldic subjects." An inscription on the breastplate, translated,
reads: "What God gives, no envy can take away; what God does not give,
no effort can gain."
"It's the best set of armor we've ever had," said Mr. Finer, who is asking "in the high six figures" for it.
By Wendy Moonan
For The New York Times