Christie’s Puts The Majesty of the American West, Adam Ansel Back in The Spotlight

The Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942 by Ansel Adams, $20,000-$30,000 | Image: Christie’s Images Ltd 2019, courtesy of The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

The Christie’s Photographs department proudly presents a spotlight sale on Ansel Adams. As one of the most renowned and revered environmentalist and photographer of the 20th century, Ansel’s immortal legacy will forever be identified with the majesty of the American West.

Born in 1902, Ansel Adams was raised in the strait between San Francisco and Marin County, amid the dunes of the Golden Gate. His love for the great outdoors and wilderness stemmed from a childhood spent hiking to escape the struggles of everyday adolescent life at home and at school.

Ansel Adams (1902-1984), Self-Portrait, Monument Valley, Utah, 1958

A self-taught musician, Ansel was literate in musical scores and had mastered the piano. With a musical career within reach, Ansel often found himself exploring the Yosemite National Park each summer, documenting his journeys and developing his imaginations with a Kodak Box Brownie camera.

As his ever-present love for the outdoors magnified, Ansel became increasingly involved in the park’s projects. Working closely with the Sierra Club, the organization behind the Yosemite National Park, fate had drawn him to meeting his (then) future wife, Virginia.

Ansel Adams (1902-1984). Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite Valley, 1938. Gelatin silver print.

Despite his unwavering determination, the act of balancing the passion for nature and music proved to be overwhelmingly arduous. Eventually Ansel’s love for all things elemental, overcame his desire to succeed in an industry of pose, insincerity and distorted values.

Never once letting go of his camera or the love of photography, Ansel grew increasingly accomplished yet dissatisfied at his inability to replicate his profound emotion in his work. With immense preservation and resolve, Ansel had finally achieved his first ‘conscious visualization’, depicting the park’s Half Dome rock formation not as it appeared in reality but how it felt to him – like a brooding form with deep shadows and a distant sharp white peak against a dark sky.

Georgia O’Keeffe and Orville Cox, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, 1937 by Ansel Adams, $12,000-$18,000

Straying away from standard pictorialism, Ansel’s work too on a more manipulated photographic style. His a desire for sharper focus and deeper tone and contrasts, led to what he described as ‘an austere and blazing poetry of the real’, making him the leading figure in ‘pure’ or ‘straight’ photography.

As his portfolio grew, Ansel had opportunities to work with Polaroid and Hasselblad, as well as, pioneer of pure aesthetics Paul Strand, and the most powerful figure in American modernist photography, Alfred Stieglitz.

Ansel Adams (1902-1984), Frozen Lake and Cliffs, Sierra Nevada, California, 1932. Gelatin silver print.

Regarded one of the finest photographers of all time, Christie’s New York offers 150 Ansel Adam prints from 1902-1984, entitled ‘The Maestro of American Landscape Photography’. Ansel’s atmospheric black-and-white images have proved to be highly sought after, previous auctions of ‘Clearing Winter Storm’, ‘Yosemite National Park’ and ‘California 1938’ fetched $559,500 at the 2017 Christie’s sale benefitting the Elton John Aids Foundation.

Featuring classic never-before-seen photographs of the American West, bidding on Tuesday, December 10th is expected to be brisk. The auction includes gelatin silver prints of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (1941) worth at least $30,000 to $50,000 – plus The Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park and Wyoming (1942) worth $20,000 to $30,000.

Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941 by Ansel Adams, $30,000-$50,000

Co-founded by Ansel Adams in 1975, all prints are being offered by the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona which houses his archives, alongside the likes of Wynn Bullock, Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind and Frederick Sommer. With a library of over 110,000 works by more than 2,200 photographers such as Lola Álvarez Bravo, William Eugene Smith and Edward Weston, all profits from the auction will fund the center’s purchase of photography, thus adding to its already impressively diverse collection.

While the prints on auction are duplicates, they represent a provenance and connection to Ansel’s photographic practice and love for the natural world.

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