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  • Provenance

    Time Inc. Picture Collection, New York
    Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, 2000

  • Literature

    Vu, 23 September 1936, no. 445, p. 1106
    LIFE, 12 July 1937, vol. 3, no. 2. p. 19
    Capa, Death in the Making (1938), cover
    Whelan, This Is War! Robert Capa at Work, back cover and figs. 40, 48, 58, 59, and 77
    Aperture, Heart of Spain: Robert Capa’s Photographs of the Spanish Civil War, p. 26
    Aperture, Robert Capa: Photographs, p. 39
    Capa, Images of War, pp. 22-23
    Museum Ludwig, Sammlung Gruber:Photographie des 20. Jahrhunderts, p. 202

  • Catalogue Essay

    Robert Capa’s Death of a Loyalist Soldier, the photographer’s most famous image and an instantly recognizable classic, brought a new immediacy to photojournalism. It caused a sensation upon its initial appearance, and has remained one of the most unforgettable images within our visual culture.

    Capa took this photograph in Spain in September 1936 while on assignment for Vu magazine. It was first published in Vu on September 23, on a page spread of Capa’s photographs of the Civil War in Spain. The conflict in Spain was of intense interest to the story-conscious Capa. The noble fight of Spanish citizens against the fascist forces led by General Francisco Franco, who was funded and armed by Hitler and Mussolini, resonated with him deeply. Armed with his Leica, and his ability to get into the heat of the action, Capa plunged into Spain looking for great images.

    Death of Loyalist Soldier
    reached a much larger audience when it was published in LIFE magazine in July 1937. Its appearance there not only propelled Capa into the top ranks of photojournalism, it also signaled a shift in American opinion about the conflict. Capa’s photograph runs the width of the page. The article beneath it notes: “On July 17 the Spanish Civil War will be one year old . . . When the war started, most U.S. citizens looked on the Loyalists as a half-crazy, irresponsible, murderous scum that had turned on its honorable betters. A year of war has taught the U.S. more of Spain . . . The reason for the civil war was simply that the people of Spain had fired their bosses for flagrant incompetence and the bosses had refused to be fired.” This is followed by six pages of photographs and text devoted to the war, with contributions by Ernest Hemingway, addressing the seriousness of the conflict. This coverage signaled that the situation in Spain was now being taken seriously in the mainstream media. Capa’s photograph was the lead image of the story, and its graphic depiction of the war brought the conflict home to Americans. It is, as Capa authority Robert Whelan observes, “almost universally acknowledged as one of the greatest war photographs ever made.” Whelan’s in-depth account of the taking of this picture, and the controversy about the locale and circumstances in which it was made, appears in his book This is War! Robert Capa at Work (pp. 53-87). These issues are further addressed in José Manuel Susperregui’s 2009 book, Sombras de la fotografia.

    The print offered here comes originally from the Time Inc. Picture Collection. As the overlapping strata of usage information on its reverse makes clear, Death of Loyalist Soldier has a publication history that is nearly too long to document. It appeared repeatedly within the pages of LIFE and Time magazines in the decades following its making, and was illustrated in countless anthologies of the magazines’ best images. In many cases, this was the print used for reproduction. The continued use of this photograph shows that, long after its newsworthiness had passed, its impact remained undiminished, and Death of Loyalist Soldier remains one of the most indelible images of the 20th century.

The Enduring Image: Photographs from the Dr. Saul Unter Collection

104

Death of a Loyalist Soldier

1936
Gelatin silver print with applied pigment, probably printed in the 1930s or early 1940s.
10 5/8 x 13 1/4 in. (27 x 33.7 cm)
'Life Photo by Robert Capa' credit stamp, extensively annotated with publication usage information in unidentified hands in ink, crayon and pencil, and with typed caption label and various Time, LIFE and other stamps and labels, all on the verso.

Estimate
$80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for $162,500

Contact Specialist
Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs

Vanessa Hallett
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Photographs

New York Auction 9 April 2018