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.

  • The impressive mural-sized photograph offered here is distinguished by the presence of Ansel Adams’ signature, title, and San Francisco studio stamp on the verso, the latter of which identifies it as a print made before his 1962 move from the city to Carmel. Adams typically did not sign his murals; the flush-mounted presentation left no border for him to sign on the mount, and he was unwilling to write directly on the surface of a print. This mural is one of the few extant that bears the signature of its maker.


    Adams’s signature, title, and stamp on the verso of this print.

    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. This mural-sized example of Tar Paper with Nails, Near Mora, New Mexico is a perfect example of how, in Adams’ handling, an image can attain new resonance when realized as a monumental print.


Tar Paper with Nails, Near Mora, New Mexico

circa 1958
Mural-sized gelatin silver print, printed no later than 1962.
31 1/2 x 40 in. (80 x 101.6 cm)
Overall 33 x 41 1/2 in. (83.8 x 105.4 cm)

Signed, titled in ink and '121 Fourth Avenue, San Francisco 21, California' credit stamp on the reverse of the flush-mount.

Full Cataloguing

$12,000 - 18,000 

Sold for $12,700

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 4 April 2023