Edward Steichen - Photographs New York Tuesday, April 4, 2023 | Phillips
  • Early in his curatorial and scholarly career, Peter C. Bunnell applied himself to the work of Clarence H. White, one of the principal members of Alfred Stieglitz’s Photo Secession movement and the subject of the photograph offered here. In advance of his employment at The Museum of Modern Art, Bunnell corresponded regularly with Edward Steichen, MoMA’s curator of photography at the time, primarily through the intercession of curator Grace Mayer who managed much of Steichen’s correspondence. In a 1961 letter in Princeton’s holdings of Bunnell’s papers, Mayer conveys Steichen’s admiration for the young Bunnell’s research on White. She writes, ‘[Mr. Steichen] is so glad you are doing the much needed book on White, and said with great sadness: “Something very wonderful disappeared from photography when White died. No one has come along with the quality of White.” You will be happy to hear that Mr. Steichen is planning to send you his portrait of White some day!’


    Less than a month later the promised print, offered here, was gratefully received by Bunnell who wrote to Mayer, ‘The portrait of Clarence White arrived and indeed, it is a magnificent photograph. Please thank Mr. Steichen for his kindness. The photograph will be a treasured one in my collection for many many years.’


    Bunnell went on to curate the first modern retrospective of White’s work at MoMA in 1971, and later published the monograph, Clarence H. White: The Reverence for Beauty in 1987. Of White, Bunnell wrote that the photographer was ‘interested in revealing how things are, rather than showing things as they are, and [his] pictures often display that precise combination of emotion and reason that causes them to imprint themselves on our consciousness.’





    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 the photographer, 1961
      Collection of Peter C. Bunnell, Princeton, New Jersey

    • Literature

      Camera Work, No. 9, pl. 15
      Ewing, Edward Steichen, pl. 15
      Joanna Steichen, Steichen's Legacy: Photographs 1895-1973, pl. 135

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


Lot offered with No Reserve

Clarence H. White

Gelatin silver print, printed no later than 1961 by Rolf Petersen.
12 3/8 x 7 1/2 in. (31.4 x 19.1 cm)
Signed and dated in the negative; credited, titled, and dated by Grace M. Mayer in ink on the reverse of the flush-mount.

Full Cataloguing

$3,000 - 5,000 

Sold for $2,540

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 4 April 2023