Palm Trunk, Cuernavaca

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  • Condition Report

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  • Provenance

    From the photographer to The San Diego Museum of Art, 1927
    Sotheby’s, New York, 17 April 1991, lot 217
    Page Imageworks, San Francisco, as agent

  • Exhibited

    San Diego Museum of Art, May 1927
    Object Lessons: Masterworks of Modernist Photography from Three Bay Area Collections, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 7 December 1995 - 10 March 1996
    Mexico as Muse: Tina Modotti and Edward Weston, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2 September 2006 - 2 January 2007
    Tina Modotti & Edward Weston: The Mexico Years, Barbican Centre, London, 29 April - 1 August 2004

  • Literature

    Conger, Edward Weston in Mexico 1923-1926, p. 39, fig. 21
    Lowe, Tina Modotti & Edward Weston: The Mexico Years, pl.36 (this print)
    Mora, et al., Edward Weston: Forms of Passion, p. 107
    Stebbins, Photography and Modernism, pl. 21

  • Catalogue Essay

    In 1923, Edward Weston left California for Mexico in the company of his lover, Tina Modotti, and his eldest son Chandler, embarking on what would become, for Weston, a defining artistic journey. The Mexican landscape, the light, the indigenous peoples and their crafts, the vibrant community of writers and painters in Mexico City—all would help to sever Weston’s last ties to Pictorialism, a style that had served him so well in the past.

    In Mexico, Weston’s work began to go in new, and sometimes radical, directions. He began to concentrate on singular forms and let them dominate the frame: not only Mexican toys and pottery, but also a toilet basin, a woman’s nude back, the heads of his Mexican friends. Palm Trunk, Cuernavaca, represents the apex of this new imagery in his oeuvre. Taken in the garden of his friend Frederick Davis, like Weston an Illinois native, the photograph is at once both realistic and abstract. Weston wrote in his daybook, ‘Why should a few yards of white tree trunk, exactly centered, cutting across an empty sky, cause such real response? And why did I spend my hours doing it? One question simply answered—I had to!’ (Daybooks, Mexico, p. 139).

    This print of Palm Trunk, Cuernavaca, was shown in Weston’s 1927 solo exhibition at The San Diego Museum of Art and was one of two images the Museum purchased from the photographer at that time. The label on the reverse of the mount—‘Acquired by the Fine Arts Society’—refers to the organization that would later become known as The San Diego Museum of Art.

    As of this writing, it is believed that the print offered here may be one of only three surviving early prints of this image: the others are a platinum-palladium print, originally from the collection of Weston’s friend Jean Charlot, sold at auction in 1994; and an early gelatin silver print acquired from Weston’s family by the Lane Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Weston remarked in his daybook upon the few number of prints he made of his Mexican work: ‘. . . usually two or three prints suffice. Or rather I should say that because of the cost I can afford to make but few prints . . . “If only I could use one more sheet of paper,” I say to myself, and then stoically, though regretfully, seal the can of palladiotype [paper]' (ibid., p. 91).

21

Palm Trunk, Cuernavaca

1925
Platinum or palladium print.
9 3/4 x 6 3/8 in. (24.8 x 16.2 cm)
Signed, dated and annotated ‘Cuernavaca’ in pencil on the verso; priced ‘20.00’ in pencil and a Fine Arts Society label with typed credit and alternative title, ‘The Palm Trunk,’ affixed to the reverse of the mount.

Estimate
$400,000 - 600,000 

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Passion & Humanity: The Susie Tompkins Buell Collection

New York Auction 4 April 2019