Margaret Bourke-White - Photographs New York Wednesday, October 11, 2023 | Phillips
  • Margaret Bourke-White’s study of the Chrysler Building’s stainless-steel eagle poised above the Manhattan cityscape is a perfect example of American photographic Modernism. Although she worked within the visually conservative field of editorial and magazine photography, Bourke-White incorporated avant-garde compositional strategies into her images, creating a visual style that was both functionally documentary and visually dynamic.


    In 1930, Margaret Bourke-White was hired to photograph the construction of what would become one of New York City’s most elegant skyscrapers, the Chrysler Building. She was deeply inspired by the new structure and especially smitten by the massive eagle’s-head figures projecting off the building. In her autobiography, Portrait of Myself, Bourke-White wrote, ‘On the sixty-first floor, the workmen started building some curious structures which overhung 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue below. When I learned these were to be gargoyles à la Notre Dame, but made of stainless steel as more suitable for the twentieth century, I decided that here would be my new studio. There was no place in the world that I would accept as a substitute.’ When the building’s management initially refused to rent to a woman, Bourke-White secured a recommendation from Fortune magazine, her principal employer at the time, and opened her studio shortly thereafter. She hired John Vassos to design the deluxe interior, whose clean modern lines echoed the building’s bold and graceful exterior.


    The Chrysler Building itself was fertile subject matter for Bourke-White, with the gargoyles a focal point. In her handling, one of the building’s most distinctive features, inspired by medieval architecture, becomes a Modernist icon.


    Photographs of Margaret Bourke-White’s studio in the Chrysler Building



    • Provenance

      Sotheby’s, New York, 5 October 1995, Lot 184
      Collection of Barry Friedman, New York
      Christie’s, New York, The Image as Object: Photographs from the Barry Friedman Collection, 5 October 1998, lot 6
      Private Collection, Montecito, California

    • Literature

      Phillips, Margaret Bourke-White: The Photography of Design, 1927-1936, p. 11
      Silverman, For the World to See: The Life of Margaret Bourke-White, p. 58
      Mulligan and Wooters, eds., Photography from 1839 to Today, p. 588
      Stravitz, The Chrysler Building: Creating a New York Icon, Day by Day, p. X


Gargoyle, Chrysler Building, New York City

circa 1930
Oversized gelatin silver print.
19 x 13 1/2 in. (48.3 x 34.3 cm)
Annotated in an unidentified hand in pencil on the verso.

Full Cataloguing

$80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for $152,400

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs


Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 11 October 2023