Consuelo Kanaga - Passion & Humanity: The Susie Tompkins Buell Collection New York Thursday, April 4, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    The photographer to Wallace Putnam, her husband
    Gift from Putnam to Kristina Amadeus, Putnam’s agent and estate executor, 1987
    Donated by Amadeus to the Estate of Wallace Putnam, 1992
    Photocollect, New York, 1993

  • Exhibited

    Object Lessons: Masterworks of Modernist Photography from Three Bay Area Collections, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 7 December 1995 - 10 March 1996
    Collected, Pier 24 Photography, San Francisco, 2 May 2016 - 31 January 2017

  • Literature

    Pier 24 Photography, Collected, p. 103 (this print)
    Millstein and Lowe, Consuelo Kanaga: An American Photographer, p. 175
    Steichen, The Family of Man, p. 32

  • Catalogue Essay

    She is a Tree of Life to Them was made by Consuelo Kanaga in Maitland, Florida, where she had taken up brief residence in an artists’ colony in the winter of 1950. Venturing into the reclaimed agricultural swampland around Maitland, she took this and many other photographs of African-American field workers, including Mother and Son (The Question, Florida) (lot 39).

    The image gained icon status, as well as its title, in Edward Steichen’s 1955 blockbuster exhibition The Family of Man. There it was paired with a phrase from Proverbs 3:18—‘She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is everyone that retaineth her’—and has been known by that title ever since. For Steichen, the photograph represented an archetype of motherhood, and he often referred to it as one of his favorite images in the show. He wrote, ‘How completely this picture speaks . . . for itself! This woman has been drawing her children to her, protecting them, for thousands of years against hurt and discrimination’ (The New York Times Magazine, 29 April 1962, pp. 62-63).


She is a Tree of Life to Them

Gelatin silver print.
13 1/4 x 10 in. (33.7 x 25.4 cm)
Annotated ‘Hetty about 14 / Call first,’ likely by the photographer in ink and Wallace Putnam Estate annotations by Kristina Amadeus in ink on the verso.

$10,000 - 15,000 

Sold for $17,500

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Passion & Humanity: The Susie Tompkins Buell Collection

New York Auction 4 April 2019