Ansel Adams - Photographs New York Tuesday, April 4, 2023 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • No other photographer of his generation experimented as adventurously or successfully as Adams with larger print sizes. The technical challenges of producing a compelling print in this size were considerable, and few photographers in the first half of the 20th-century had thought of making images beyond the standard formats. Adams’ success with larger print sizes was trailblazing in his own time and was prescient of the current trend in photography in which larger prints by contemporary artists predominate.

    Adams’ murals have their origin in the desire for public art in the 1930s. The first notable display of photographs in this format was The Museum of Modern Art’s Murals by American Painters and Photographers exhibition in 1932. In his introduction to that show’s catalogue, Julian Levy identified the difficulties of creating a photograph in grand format: ‘A good photo-mural is not merely the mechanical enlargement of a small photograph. The enlarged mural is a new and independent production, and the photographer who does not visualize in advance the final scale of his picture will usually be surprised and dismayed by the results.’ Adams met these challenges head-on with a characteristic combination of enthusiasm and technical virtuosity.

    Adams created his first murals in 1935 when he received a commission to produce wall-sized prints of Yosemite National Park for the Yosemite Park & Curry Company. He continued to refine his technique through the following decades as other commissions and opportunities arose. In 1941 he was hired by the United States Department of the Interior to produce a series of murals for the Department’s Washington, D.C., offices, although World War II prevented the completion of the project. Making large prints was time-consuming and costly, and most of his mural work was produced for corporations such as The American Trust Company (later Wells Fargo) and Polaroid.

    In 1940 Adams published an article entitled ‘Photo-Murals’ in U.S Camera magazine, establishing himself as an authority on the subject. With characteristic humor, he dubbed mural-sized prints ‘enlargements with a vengeance,’ and further stated, ‘Apart from optical and technical considerations, the size of the photograph has an expressive relationship with the subject.’ Adams was particularly attuned to the effect a print’s scale would have on a viewer, no matter the format he worked in. Leaves, Mills College, makes a stunning transition into the mural format, revealing a universe of detail and depth not present in smaller prints of the image. 

    • Literature

      Szarkowski, Ansel Adams at 100, pl. 46
      Stillman, Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs, pp. 64, 416


Leaves, Mills College

Mural-sized gelatin silver print, printed late 1950s or early 1960s, flush-mounted.
38 1/2 x 47 1/2 in. (97.8 x 120.7 cm)
Overall 40 x 49 in. (101.6 x 124.5 cm)

Full Cataloguing

$30,000 - 50,000 

Sold for $254,000

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 4 April 2023