Minor White - Photographs New York Wednesday, October 12, 2022 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

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

  • Literature

    Bunnell, Minor White: The Eye That Shapes, pl. 18
    Martineau, Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit, pls. 25 and 36
    Hall, Minor White: Rites & Passages, p. 71
    Hershberger and Klochko, The Time Between: The Sequences of Minor White, nos. 1.2, 1.13, 1.21

  • Catalogue Essay

    Titles include:

    Tom Murphy (standing), 1947
    Nude and Driftwood (Tom Murphy), 1947
    Tom Murphy's Hands, 1947

    These three studies of Tom Murphy, a student of Minor White’s at the California School of Fine Arts, were included in White’s 1948 sequence entitled The Temptation of Saint Anthony is Mirrors. The sequence’s frank nude studies are interspersed with intimate studies of Murphy’s hands, face, and body. Peter Bunnell wrote that in this sequence, White sought ‘to depict the emotional turmoil he feels over his love and desire for men,’ and notes that the images were never exhibited publicly during White’s lifetime.

    The remarkable selection of photographs offered in this auction as lots 143 through 167 all come from the collection of Peter C. Bunnell (1937-2021), the pioneering curator, teacher, and photographic historian. Bunnell began his long career in photography as a student of Minor White’s at the Rochester Institute of Photography 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 1960 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. ‘These photographs are used,’ he said, ‘they don't just sit around in boxes.’ Bunnell published widely on many photographers and photographic subjects. He was the acknowledged authority on the work of both Minor White and Clarence H. White, and it was through him that the archives of these two major photographs now reside at Princeton. As a teacher and a mentor, Bunnell professionalized the study of photographic history, conferring a higher degree of rigor and status to the medium, and inspiring an entire generation of curators and photographers.

    Bunnell also built a personal collection of photography over the course of his long career that reflects his vast and deep understanding of photography. Begun in the 1950s, before photography galleries and dealers were commonplace, the collection incorporates some outstanding rarities by Ansel Adams, his teacher and mentor Minor White, Edward Weston, Walker Evans, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Harry Callahan, Frederick Sommer, his friend Jerry Uelsmann, and many other photographers who touched his life or his sensibility in some important way. It is a deeply personal collection put together with a sense of joy and curiosity that includes both icons and lesser-known gems spanning the history of photography.

    This auction’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.

A Reverence for Beauty: The Peter C. Bunnell Collection, Part 1


Lot offered with No Reserve

Selected Figure Studies of Tom Murphy, San Francisco

Three gelatin silver prints, each mounted.
Each approximately 3 x 5 in. (7.6 x 12.7 cm) or the reverse.

$8,000 - 12,000 

Sold for $17,640

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs, New York

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Deputy Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 12 October 2022