Harry Callahan - Photographs New York Tuesday, April 4, 2023 | Phillips
  • The ten Harry Callahan photographs offered here are the actual prints shown in the eminent curator John Szarkowski’s first exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, The Photographer and the American Landscape, on view from September to December 1963. The photographs were loaned to the exhibition by Callahan himself, and each print bears a Museum loan label with typed loan number. Since being returned to Callahan after the close of the exhibition, the photographs have had only two subsequent owners. Art dealer and collector George H. Dalsheimer purchased them from Callahan directly. Proprietor of Baltimore’s G. H. Dalsheimer Gallery, Dalsheimer was also an early and influential photography collector, and his photographs collection was acquired by the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1988. The current owner acquired them in 1983. In terms of exhibition history, provenance, and the fact that the group has remained intact since its creation, the present suite of Harry Callahan photographs is an early tour-de-force presentation of the photographer’s best landscape work.


    Installation of nine of the present photographs in The Museum of Modern Art Exhibition, The Photographer and the American Landscape, 1963

    John Szarkowski had been appointed head of MoMA’s photography department the year before he mounted The Photographer and the American Landscape, his first major show for the museum. The photographers ranged from the greats of the 19th century – Carleton Watkins, Timothy O’Sullivan, William Henry Jackson, and others – to 20th-century masters – including not only Callahan but also Ansel Adams, Edward and Brett Weston, Paul Caponigro, William Garnett, Art Sinsabaugh, and others. As Szarkowski wrote in his preliminary notes for the show, ‘Landscape has been a major photographic genre in this country for almost a century.  The purpose of this exhibition will be to trace the tradition of this picture-making problem . . . The concern . . . will be neither natural history nor scenery, but the evolution of a pictorial tradition . . . The exhibition will show the most influential and original workers in the genre.’


    A slim soft-cover catalogue was published at the time of the show, with short biographies but relatively few plates. While photographers like Edward Weston and Ansel Adams rated multiple illustrations in the catalogue, Callahan had only one, and his biography is among the briefest. Compared to that of Weston and Adams, Callahan’s fame was in a relatively early stage, but the catalogue states that ‘two additional books on [Callahan’s] work are in preparation.’ One of these was undoubtedly the famous El Mochuelo edition of Callahan’s photographs, published by the El Mochuelo Gallery in Santa Barbara the following year, and still, in the opinion of many, the most beautiful Callahan volume ever produced. The other was likely the monograph Szarkowski and MoMA would publish in 1967.


    Catalogue for The Photographer and the American Landscape exhibition, 1963

     In his outline for the exhibition, Szarkowski wrote, ‘The work of each photographer will be exhibited as a unit, and the installation of the exhibition should emphasize the integrity and specific character of the individual photographer’s work.’ Indeed, the ten Callahan photographs, as they were arranged on the Museum’s walls, formed a cohesive exhibition within the larger show. Hung by Szarkowski from dark to light, the photographs’ sequence could be interpreted as a demonstration of the ten-zone grey scale. More important, however, was the progression of the images, left to right, from recognizable plant forms to ones nearing abstraction, with the famous Trees in Snow, Chicago, at the mid-point—a new contextualization of this important photograph. Works by Callahan had been included in earlier MoMA exhibitions organized by curator Edward Steichen, but these landscape photographs as curated by Szarkowski presented something different.


    The majority of Callahan photographs sold in the art market today are prints made later in his career which have a decidedly different look from those printed earlier. Compared to the later prints that populate the Callahan market, the prints offered here, with their assured cut-off printing date of 1963 and solid exhibition history and provenance, are a true rarity. Chosen by John Szarkowski from diverse years in Callahan’s career—from the 1940s to the 1960s—and then arranged on the museum walls in a creative sequence, the works comprised an expressive interpretation of Callahan’s vision. As of this writing, it is believed that no other comparable group of intact Callahan works, with as prestigious an exhibition history and notably short train of ownership, has been available in the marketplace in recent decades.


    Szarkowski and Callahan would continue to collaborate in subsequent decades on a number of exhibitions and publications. In 1967 Szarkowski and The Museum of Modern Art published a monograph on the photographer’s work. In 1976, Szarkowski curated the largest retrospective to-date of the photographer’s work at MoMA, accompanied by a catalogue co-published with Aperture. Both books and the 1976 exhibition included images Szarkowski had originally selected for his American Landscape exhibition.


    [Left] John Szarkowski, Harry Callahan (MoMA, 1967)
    [Right] John Szarkowski, Callahan (MoMA and Aperture, 1976)

    Callahan’s titles for his photographs are often unspecific, sometimes only referencing the location in which a photograph was made (e.g., Chicago, Detroit, or Wisconsin). In his exhibition checklist, Szarkowski added a descriptive note to each title, such as Detroit (grasses in water). The photographs, with Szarkowski’s descriptive titles added, are as follows:


    Maine (Heavy grasses), 1962

    Lake Michigan (Grasses in sand), 1949

    New Hampshire (Trees), 1961

    Wisconsin (Rocks and grasses), 1958

    Michigan (Turbulent grasses), 1959

    Rhode Island (Grasses), circa 1962

    Chicago (Trees in snow), circa 1950

    Detroit (Grasses in water), 1941

    Chicago (Stones in sand), 1946

    Detroit (Grasses in snow – calligraphy), 1943

    • Provenance

      Collection of the photographer
      Collection of George H. Dalsheimer, Baltimore
      Andrea Stillman, New York, as agent
      Collection of Thayer Tutt, New York and Colorado, 1983

    • Exhibited

      The Photographer and the American Landscape, The Museum of Modern Art, 14 September - 1 December 1963

    • Literature

      El Mochuelo Gallery, Harry Callahan: Photographs, pp. 86, 88, 93, 101, 108, 110, 113, 115, and 122
      Szarkowski, Harry Callahan (1967), pp. 58, 64, 65, and 70
      Szarkowski, Callahan (1976), pp. 33, 34, 63, 112


Suite of 10 Photographs from The Photographer and the American Landscape

10 gelatin silver prints, printed no later than 1963.
Various sizes from 6 1/2 x 6 1/2 in. (16.5 x 16.5 cm) to 7 5/8 x 9 5/8 in. (19.4 x 24.4 cm)
Each signed in pencil on the mount; a Museum of Modern Art loan label and notations in unidentified hands in pencil on the verso.

Full Cataloguing

$150,000 - 250,000 

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 4 April 2023