Carleton Watkins - Photographs New York Monday, April 4, 2016 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    The Old Book Store, San Francisco, 1967
    The Gordon L. Bennett Collection
    Sotheby's, New York, The Gordon L. Bennett Collection of Carleton Watkins New Series Photographs of Yosemite, 28 April 2004, lot 59

  • Exhibited

    Early Views of Yosemite and the California Missions: Photographs by Carleton E. Watkins from the Collection of Gordon Bennett, Focus Gallery, San Francisco, November-December 1973

  • Catalogue Essay

    No pain here, no dull empty hours, no fear of the past, no fear of the future. These blessed mountains are so compactly filled with God’s beauty, no petty personal hope or experience has room to be. Drinking this champagne water is pure pleasure, so is breathing the living air, and every movement of limbs is pleasure, while the body seems to feel beauty when exposed to it as it feels the campfire or sunshine, entering not by the yes alone, but equally through all one’s flesh like radiant heat, making a passionate ecstatic pleasure glow not explainable. -John Muir, Sierra Club Founder, reflecting on Yosemite

    Ecstatic admiration and respect for Yosemite shines through the art of the American landscape. A sight of awe and inspiration, the official preservation and conservation of Yosemite, steered by John Muir in the nineteenth century, is in great part indebted to the sublime landscapes rendered by painters and photographers, such as Carleton Watkins, whose majestic compositions made the site’s significance undeniable.

    An exceptionally gifted photographer, Watkins earned great acclaim in the 1860s for his exquisitely produced mammoth-plate prints of Yosemite and other western views. After closing his commercial photography gallery in 1875 under financial pressures and forfeiting the vast majority of negatives that had defined his early success, Watkin’s returned to Yosemite in 1878. His New Series, of which the present lot is a part, was born from his desire to rebuild his livelihood and preserve his once-uncertain legacy. Here, working with the immensely complex wet-plate collodion process, Watkins produced some of his most beautiful and compositionally complex images conveying infinitesimal detail, immense clarity and staggering depth of field.

    The wet-plate collodion process required Watkins to hand-coat glass plates, sensitize and expose them while the coating was still wet, and then develop the negatives, all on site. To put in full context, he was not merely trekking through Yosemite with a single camera, but rather, travelling with glass plates that measured up to 18 x 21 inches, chemicals, and equipment to set-up a temporary darkroom at each site. Each and every photograph was a cumbersome endeavor yet highlight’s Watkins’ commitment to capturing the expansive beauty of the natural world.

    The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the fire that followed in its wake dealt Watkins another professional heartache by destroying the vast majority of his glass-plate negatives, prints, equipment and personal records, making any existing work by the photographer a rarity. Exceptionally special, this print of The Half Dome, Vernal and Nevada Falls, from Glacier Point Yosemite originates from a once intact album of forty New Series Yosemite mammoth-plate prints, believed to be unique. The album, its cover, long since disintegrated and discarded, was purchased by the collector Gordon L. Bennett in 1967 at the Old Book Store, San Francisco, and remained in his private collection until the photographs were individually sold at auction in 2004.



The Half Dome, Vernal and Nevada Falls, from Glacier Point Yosemite

Mammoth-plate albumen print.
15 1/8 x 21 1/4 in. (38.4 x 54 cm)
Letterpressed title, series number 862, series title and San Francisco studio address on an artist's label affixed to the mount; Bennett Collection stamp on the reverse of the mount.

$20,000 - 30,000 

Sold for $27,500

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New York Auction 4 April 2016