A landmark Christie’s auction of Ansel Adams’ photography

From awe-inspiring scenes of the American West to a beautiful portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe

The Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942 by Ansel Adams, $20,000-$30,000
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

This is the kind of auction that photography collectors get very excited about. Christie’s New York is offering 150 prints by Ansel Adams (1902–1984), the maestro of American landscape photography, whose atmospheric black-and-white images are highly sought after. When a large-scale 1970s print of Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, California, 1938 went under the hammer in the 2017 Christie’s sale to benefit the Elton John Aids Foundation, it fetched $559,500. 

Georgia O’Keeffe and Orville Cox, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, 1937 by Ansel Adams, $12,000-$18,000
Georgia O’Keeffe and Orville Cox, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, 1937 by Ansel Adams, $12,000-$18,000 | Image: Christie’s Images Ltd 2019, courtesy of The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

Expect bidding, therefore, to be brisk on Tuesday December 10. None of these works has been seen on the market before, but they are classic Adams, with a focus on the American West. Highlights include gelatine silver prints of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941 ($30,000-$50,000); The Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1942 ($20,000-$30,000); and a photograph of artist Georgia O’Keeffe and the head wrangler of Ghost Ranch, Orville Cox, at the Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona in 1937 ($12,000-$18,000). 

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The prints are being offered by the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, which was co-founded by Adams in 1975 to house his archives, alongside those of four fellow photographers: Wynn Bullock, Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind and Frederick Sommer. Today the Center owns 110,000 works by more than 2,200 photographers, including Lola Álvarez Bravo, William Eugene Smith and Edward Weston, and profits from the Adams sale will fund the purchase of more photography and add to the collection’s diversity. 

Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941 by Ansel Adams, $30,000-$50,000
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941 by Ansel Adams, $30,000-$50,000 | Image: Christie’s Images Ltd 2019, courtesy of The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

Thus these duplicate prints have an interesting provenance and connection to Adams’ practice. Rather than exploiting an excited market, they will further the photographer’s vision of creating not only a museum but also a place of research and dialogue – and would make very nice Christmas presents indeed.

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