Margaret Bourke-White - Photographs New York Tuesday, April 4, 2023 | Phillips

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  • 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.


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

    The Chrysler Building itself became subject matter for Bourke-White, with the gargoyles a focal point. The image offered here is her best-known study of the structure and is a perfect illustration of her ability to incorporate avant-garde compositional ideas into her work. In her handling, one of the building’s most distinctive features, inspired by medieval architecture, becomes a Modernist icon. The present print, with its lush tonality, meticulously inked black borders, and boldly signed mount, represents an ideal early print of this image.

    • 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
Gelatin silver print with black inked borders.
13 x 9 in. (33 x 22.9 cm)
Signed in pencil on the mount; 'A Margaret Bourke-White Photograph' credit stamp on the reverse of the mount.

Full Cataloguing

$80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for $127,000

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 4 April 2023