Robert Frank - Photographs New York Thursday, April 8, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired from the artist, late 1980s-early 1990s

  • Literature

    The Americans, no. 77
    Greenough, Looking In: Robert Frank's The Americans, p. 250
    Greenough, Robert Frank: Moving Out, p. 187
    Bayer, et al., Concerning Photography: Some Thoughts About Reading Photographs, p. 52
    Galassi, Walker Evans & Company, pl. 102
    Green, American Photography: A Critical History 1945-Present, p. 169
    Hinson, The Cleveland Museum of Art: Catalogue of Photography, p. 167
    Papageorge, Walker Evans and Robert Frank: An Essay on Influence, p. 45
    Szarkowski, The Photographer's Eye, p. 26

  • Catalogue Essay

    The American automobile was a source of fascination for Robert Frank, and cars – specifically the gleaming boxy models that were Detroit’s pride during the post-World War II years – appear as a repeating motif throughout The Americans. Covered Car – Long Beach, California is perhaps Frank’s most iconic car image, albeit one in which the car is hidden by its protective cover. The tonal values of this photograph, ranging from the shimmering white of the cover’s fabric to the absolute black of the shadows, give the image an otherworldly, almost Surreal, quality. Within the sequential context of The Americans, this composition foreshadows that of Car Accident—U.S. 66, Between Winslow and Flagstaff, Arizona which comes directly after.

    Car culture was a novelty to Frank whose Swiss upbringing did not prepare him for the love and attention Americans lavished upon the automobile. Many Californians had arrived in the state in the broken-down cars so memorably depicted in the photographs of Dorothea Lange. Two decades later, in 1950s California, Frank discovered that the automobile had undergone a remarkable transformation from a frequently unreliable jalopy into a fetishized object. Jack Kerouac, in his freewheeling introduction to The Americans, comments on the irony so aptly captured by Frank in this photograph: 'Car shrouded in fancy expensive designed tarpolian to keep soots of no-soot Malibu from falling on new simonize job as owner who is two-dollar-an-hour carpenter snoozes in house with wife, and TV, all under palm trees for nothing, in the cemeterial California night.'

    The choice selection of images from Robert Frank’s The Americans offered here as lots 13 through 18 all come from the collection of Robert Richardson and Monona Wali. These were acquired from the photographer in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Mr. Richardson is a three-time Academy Award winning cinematographer who has worked with such acclaimed directors as Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Oliver Stone, and Errol Morris. In 2019 he received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from The American Society of Cinematographers. Ms. Wali is an award-winning writer, filmmaker, and teacher. Their collection began in the 1980s with acquisitions of work by Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Adams, Edward Weston, Tina Modotti, Danny Lyon, and many others – all images that synthesized the then-married couple’s dual interests in photography’s visual and narrative power.

    Mr. Richardson writes, 'Robert Frank’s work was my teacher in so many ways. He taught me with his precise vision how to look upon an America that others could not, or would not, or were unable to see. His career was not simply one book, The Americans, although many hold that up as perhaps the finest of his work, and the finest of anyone’s. But his later images and films with his family brought out the emotional heart of what he captured through his lens as he grew older and wiser. Many call him a documentary photographer. I see that perspective, but I also see vastly more. I see and feel the subjective point of view of a master – in my mind, the master.'

  • Artist Biography

    Robert Frank

    Swiss • 1924

    As one of the leading visionaries of mid-century American photography, Robert Frank has created an indelible body of work, rich in insight and poignant in foresight. In his famed series The Americans, Frank travelled the United States, capturing the parade of characters, hierarchies and imbalances that conveyed his view of the great American social landscape.

    Frank broke the mold of what was considered successful documentary photography with his "snapshot aesthetic." It is Frank's portrayal of the United States through grit and grain that once brought his work to the apex of criticism, but has now come to define the art of documentary photography.

    View More Works

Photographs from the Collection of Robert Richardson and Monona Wali


Covered Car – Long Beach, California

Gelatin silver print, printed later.
8 7/8 x 13 3/8 in. (22.5 x 34 cm)
Signed, dated '1955' and annotated 'Long Beach, Calif.' in ink in the margin.

$50,000 - 70,000 

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Deputy Chairman, Americas



New York Auction 8 April 2021