Dorothea Lange - Artist | Icon | Inspiration: Women in Photography Presented with Peter Fetterman New York Friday, June 7, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    From the artist to photographer William Heick, circa 1955
    By descent to the present owner

  • Literature

    Meister, Dorothea Lange: Migrant Mother, cover, pp. 3, 13
    Meltzer, Dorothea Lange: A Photographer's Life, cover, p. 213
    Aperture, Dorothea Lange: Photographs of a Lifetime, p. 77
    Borhan, Dorothea Lange: The Heart and Mind of a Photographer, p. 133
    Davis, The Photographs of Dorothea Lange, p. 45
    Keller, In Focus: Dorothea Lange, Photographs from The J. Paul Getty Museum, pl. 13
    NBC éditions, Dorothea Lange: The Human Face, p. 99
    Partridge, Dorothea Lange: A Visual Life, pl. 6.16
    Partridge, Restless Spirit: The Life and Work of Dorothea Lange, p. 4
    San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Dorothea Lange: American Photographs, pl. 43

  • Catalogue Essay

    Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, has become an enduring icon since its making in 1936. Taken while Lange was working for the Farm Security Administration documenting the hardships of the Great Depression, Migrant Mother combines the photographer’s characteristic respect and empathy for her subjects with her compositional rigor. The photograph was reproduced widely in the press in the 1930s and in the decades to come. Through this exposure Migrant Mother transcended its original documentary purpose to become a universal symbol of motherhood and perseverance under adversity.

    In her recent book, Dorothea Lange: Migrant Mother, Sarah Hermanson Meister offers a comprehensive study of the image, its history, and legacy. The photograph’s central figure is Florence Owens Thompson, a migrant worker camped with her four daughters and other migrants alongside a farm whose crops had frozen, eliminating the possibility of paid work. Meister notes that Thompson was Cherokee, a fact unknown at the time of the photograph’s initial publication, adding an even greater degree of resonance to the image. In her assessment of the continuing relevance of Migrant Mother, Meister writes, “The superlatives that have been heaped upon it have done nothing to dilute its impact, nor have the passing decades diminished our inclination to empathize with the subjects’ plight” (pp. 15 and 18).

    This print of Migrant Mother was acquired from Lange by photographer and filmmaker William Heick. Correspondence from Lange to Heick accompanying this lot documents a warm and respectful friendship between them. In Lange’s 1955 postcard she asks, “Sometime will you swap with me? A print of [Heick’s photograph] Indian Clam Digger for anything of mine you like.” It is believed that the exchange – of Clam Digger for Migrant Mother – was made shortly thereafter.

    After serving in the Navy during World War II, William Heick (1916-2012) studied photography at the California School of Fine Arts under Ansel Adams and Minor White, and maintained close friendships with Imogen Cunningham and Lange. Heick was known for his accomplished ethnographic photographs, specifically his images of Native Americans, and produced numerous films. His work has been shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Seattle Museum of Art, and many other institutions.


Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California

Gelatin silver print, printed circa 1955 and mounted later.
13 1/4 x 10 3/8 in. (33.7 x 26.4 cm)
Credited by William Heick in pencil on the mount; dated and annotated 'Nipomo' by Heick in pencil on the reverse of the mount. Accompanied by a manuscript letter and postcard by Lange, postmarked 1953 and 1955, respectively.

$70,000 - 90,000 

Sold for $87,500

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Artist | Icon | Inspiration: Women in Photography Presented with Peter Fetterman

New York Auction 7 June 2019