Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California

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  • Condition Report

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  • Provenance

    Irwin Welcher, San Francisco, possibly acquired from Dorothea Lange in the 1950s or 1960s
    Eddie Diba, San Francisco
    Private Collection, San Francisco
    To the present owner, 2009

  • Literature

    San Francisco News, March 11, 1936
    “Draggin’- Around People,” Survey Graphic, September 1936
    Meltzer, Dorothea Lange: A Photographer’s Life, cover, p. 213
    Szarkowski, Phillips, and Heyman, Dorothea Lange: American Photographs, back cover, pl. 43
    The Museum of Modern Art, Dorothea Lange, p. 25
    Aperture, Dorothea Lange: Photographs of a Lifetime, p. 77
    Borhan, Dorothea Lange: Heart and Mind of a Photographer, p. 133
    Davis, The Photographs of Dorothea Lange, p. 45
    Keller, In Focus: Dorothea Lange, Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum, pl. 13 there titled Human Erosion in California/Facing Starvation/Starvation/Migrant Mother, Nipoma, California
    Light, Witness In Our Time, Working Lives of Documentary Photographers, Rondal Partridge, Dorothea Lange in The Field, p. 203
    NBC Editions, Dorothea Lange: The Human Face, p. 99
    Partridge, Restless Spirit: The Life and Work of Dorothea Lange, p. 4
    Partridge, Dorothea Lange: A Visual Life, pl. 6.16
    Whitney Museum of American Art, The American Century: Art and Culture 1900-2000, p. 248
    Partridge, Dorothea Lange, A Visual Life, 1994, film including extensive interviews with Rondal Partridge
    PBS American Masters, Dorothea Lange: Grab A Hunk of Lightning, 2014, film

  • Catalogue Essay

    It is believed that this masterfully-made print of Lange’s most iconic image came originally from the collection of Irwin Welcher, the San Francisco-based photographic printer who worked with Dorothea Lange in the 1950s and 1960s. Lange first encountered Welcher when he was hired to make prints for Edward Steichen’s monumental Family of Man exhibition, an exhibition for which Lange was Steichen’s west coast representative. Welcher was also involved in printing the photographs for Lange’s 1966 retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Lange may have given this print to Welcher as a guide print.

    This print was shown to photographer Rondal Partridge (1917-2015), who worked with Lange during her years as photographer for the Farm Security Administration, and remained close to her throughout her life. Ron, as his friends called him, was the son of photographer Imogen Cunningham and worked with Lange in her darkroom in Berkeley, California. He was an acknowledged expert on her life and prints. In the 2009 letter that accompanies this photograph, Ron outlines his opinion that the print was made by Lange, stating that it “exhibits all of the typical tonality of Dorothea’s printing from 1922 to 1945.” Indeed, the print is distinguished by a nuanced tonality and high level of detail.

    It is also possible that this print was made by Welcher, likely to Lange’s specifications during the period they worked together. Welcher was a sensitive and scrupulous interpreter of Lange’s photographs, and his prints of her images that have come to market all share the same high degree of print quality and rich tonality as the print offered here. In a 1966 interview, Welcher described the experience of working with Lange: “My association with Dorothea was more than that of a businessman and a client. There was an empathy. Many times Dorothea had only to say a word or two and I immediately grasped what she meant . . . As for myself, I can say this was truly a labor of love. It is not very often that one gets the opportunity to be a part of the history of art” (“Dorothea Lange and Her Printer,” Popular Photography, Volume 59, No. 1, July 1966, p. 70).

154

Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California

1936
Gelatin silver print, printing date unknown.
13 1/2 x 10 3/8 in. (34.3 x 26.4 cm)
Accompanied by a typed letter signed by Rondal Partridge.

Estimate
$80,000 - 100,000 

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Photographs

New York Auction 4 April 2019