Diane Arbus - Photographs New York Tuesday, April 4, 2023 | Phillips

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  • In 1969 Diane Arbus received a commission to photograph the family of actor and producer Konrad Matthaei and his wife Gay, a writer and designer, in their luxurious New York City townhouse. Konrad Matthaei’s star was on the rise, and while he made a good living as recurring characters on the soap operas The Secret Storm and As the World Turns, he also owned the Alvin Theater which delivered a series of hit productions in the 1960s. The Matthaeis were introduced to Arbus by Museum of Modern Art curator John Szarkowski. Arbus spent two days in the Matthaei house photographing Konrad, Gay, and their three children, including daughters Marcella and Leslie, the subjects of the present photograph. As they were produced for a private commission, this body of work was generally unknown until 1999, when Gay Matthaei showed photographs from the two-day session to curators at Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. This initiated an exhibition at the Museum and a book, Diane Arbus: Family Albums by John Pultz and Anthony W. Lee, which examined and situated these photographs within in the context of Arbus oeuvre.   


    The remarkable selection of photographs offered in this auction as lots 203 through 240 comes from the collection of Peter C. Bunnell (1937-2021), the pioneering curator, teacher, and photographic historian. All of the sale’s proceeds will be distributed to six institutions with whom Bunnell was associated — Rochester Institute of Technology, Ohio University, Yale University, The George Eastman Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, and Princeton University Art Museum — to establish endowments to support the study of photographic history.


    Bunnell began his long career in photography as a student of Minor White’s at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the 1950s, and was recruited by White to work on the seminal periodical of artistic photography, Aperture. He joined the staff of The Museum of Modern Art in 1966 as a collection cataloguer, becoming Associate Curator and then Curator of Photography. At MoMA he curated the noteworthy exhibitions Photography as Printmaking (1968), Photography into Sculpture (1970), and the first retrospective of the work of Clarence H. White (1971). In 1972, he was hired as the inaugural David Hunter McAlpin Professor of the History of Photography and Modern Art at Princeton University. 


    Bunnell served as Director of the Princeton University Art Museum from 1973 to 1978, and as Acting Director from 1998 to 2000, while also being the Museum’s Curator of Photography throughout the entirety of his tenure. Bunnell built a broad-ranging collection of photographs at the Museum, the firsthand examination of which became a central element of the student experience in his classes and seminars. Bunnell also assembled a personal collection of photography over the course of his long career that reflects his vast and deep understanding of the medium. Begun in the 1950s, before photography galleries and dealers were commonplace, Bunnell’s collection is a deeply personal one, put together with a sense of joy and curiosity that includes both icons and lesser-known gems spanning the history of photography.

    • Provenance

      Gift of Marcella Matthaei
      Collection of Peter C. Bunnell, Princeton, New Jersey

    • Artist Biography

      Diane Arbus

      American • 1923 - 1971

      Transgressing traditional boundaries, Diane Arbus is known for her highly desirable, groundbreaking portraiture taken primarily in the American Northeast during the late 1950s and 1960s. Famous for establishing strong personal relationships with her subjects, Arbus' evocative images capture them in varied levels of intimacy. Whether in their living rooms or on the street, their surreal beauty transcends the common distance found in documentary photography.

      Taken as a whole, Arbus' oeuvre presents the great diversity of American society — nudists, twins, babies, beauty queens and giants — while each distinct image brings the viewer into contact with an exceptional individual brought to light through Arbus' undeniable genius. 

      View More Works

A Reverence for Beauty: The Peter C. Bunnell Collection, Part 2


Lot offered with No Reserve

Marcella and Leslie Matthaei standing in front of a window

Gelatin silver print, printed between 1969 and 1971.
7 1/4 x 7 in. (18.4 x 17.8 cm)
Stamped 'A Diane Arbus print,' signed by Doon Arbus, Executor, in ink, estate copyright credit and reproduction limitation stamps on the verso. Accompanied by a letter of authentication from the Estate of Diane Arbus.

Full Cataloguing

$6,000 - 8,000 

Sold for $4,445

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 4 April 2023