Lynton Wells - The Eye That Shapes: Further Selections from the Peter C. Bunnell Collection New York Wednesday, January 25, 2023 | Phillips
  • The remarkable selection of photographs offered in this online auction comes from the collection of Peter C. Bunnell (1937-2021), the pioneering curator, teacher, and photographic historian. All lots are sold with No Reserve and the 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. 


    Simultaneously frenetic and ethereal, Six Wizards (Italian Bellflowers) exemplifies Lynton Wells’s dedication to the ‘object presence of the picture,’ as described by Bunnell in the catalogue for the 1979 exhibition, Lynton Wells: Paintings 1971-78 at Princeton University Art Museum. Printed on stretched photo-sensitized linen, the black-and-white image provides the surface onto which Wells paints and draws. Curator and critic Sally Yard writes, ‘Multiple exposures give Wells’s images a dreamed, unclear presence. The pictures . . . are in a sense studio still lives arranged and lit, and then rearranged before each of four or five subsequent slow exposures, creating an appearance of movement.’ Adding to the illusory quality of the image, layers of oil and acrylic paint punctuated by charcoal markings further transform the photographic surface. In Six Wizards, the convergence of media and the layering of representations creates a surreal and delightfully confounding viewing experience. 


    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

      Collection of Peter C. Bunnell, Princeton, New Jersey

    • Exhibited

      Lynton Wells: Paintings, 1971-1978, Princeton University of Art, 1979

    • Literature

      Lynton Wells: Paintings, 1971-1978. Princeton, The Art Museum, Princeton University, 1979, pl. 16

The Eye That Shapes: Further Selections from the Peter C. Bunnell Collection


Lot offered with No Reserve

Six Wizards (Italian Bellflowers)

Gelatin silver print on photosensitized linen with applied oil, acrylic and charcoal.
48 x 66 1/8 in. (121.9 x 168 cm)
Signed, titled, and dated in paint on the reverse.

Full Cataloguing

$1,000 - 1,500 

Sold for $4,032

Contact Specialist

Christopher Mahoney

Senior International Specialist


Vanessa Hallett

Worldwide Head of Photographs and Deputy Chairwoman

The Eye That Shapes: Further Selections from the Peter C. Bunnell Collection

Online Auction 25 January - 1 February 2023