Robert Frank - Photographs New York Wednesday, April 6, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "In a sense, all pictures exist because of their atmosphere." —Robert Frank

    This photograph offered here is a rare, possibly unique, image from Robert Frank’s seminal series made in London between 1951 and 1953. Focusing primarily on bankers within the urban environment of London’s ‘City,’ this body of work marked a progression in Frank’s approach to his subject matter and was a definitive step toward the extended narrative structure that he would employ in coming years in The Americans. This print was included in London/Wales, the definitive exhibition of Frank’s early 1950s work in Great Britain at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington. D. C., in 2003. Frank, along with curator Philip Bookman, was instrumental in the selection and sequencing of images in this show, and it is this early print that is reproduced in the exhibition catalogue. As of this writing, no other prints of this image have been located.



    Frank photographed in London and in Wales concurrently, focusing on bankers and the street life of the City in the former, and on a single miner and his family in the latter. In Wales, Frank forged a relationship with his subject and the resultant pictures have a solidly documentary character. In London, Frank was unencumbered by any such personal connections and photographed as he freely explored the urban terrain. While these images avoid a linear narrative, they create a remarkable collective portrait of a specific place and time. Frank’s contact sheets from these years, now in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, suggest that he may have considered a diaristic structure for the series, annotating some images by the time of day depicted. On the contact sheet of the roll of film on which this image appears, Frank circled this frame heavily in ink, highlighted it, and marked it “NIGHT 2”; the print offered here is also annotated “Night” on the reverse. The National Gallery’s contact sheet is classified under materials related to Black White and Things, and Frank’s extensive annotations around this image strongly suggest he considered it for inclusion in that seminal 1952 maquette.


    Detail of contact sheet.

    Considered on its own, this photograph perfectly captures an end-of-the-day tableau, in which cabs are hailed and pedestrians hurry home through the penumbra of London fog. Few images from the London series have the panoramic scope of the photograph offered here, in which its figures are set against a modernist stage set of a London street, and in which the fog itself is a compositional element, one that enhances rather than obscures the sweeping composition. In 1954, after Frank had closed the chapter on his London series, he wrote, “In a sense, all pictures exist because of their atmosphere.” The photograph offered here sets forth an eloquent visual declaration of that principle. 


    In the thirty-plus years since this print was acquired from Lunn, LTD., no other prints have appeared or are known to exist. When included in the exhibition London/Wales at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 2003, it had been previously unknown to curator Philip Brookman despite his extensive research in developing both the exhibition and catalogue.


    Detail of print verso.
    • Provenance

      Collection of the artist
      The Robert Frank Archive, Lunn, Ltd., New York, 1990

    • Exhibited

      Robert Frank: London/Wales, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 10 May - 14 July 2003

    • Literature

      Brookman, Robert Frank: London/Wales, p. 14 (this print)

    • 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



circa 1952
Gelatin silver print.
7 3/4 x 13 3/8 in. (19.7 x 34 cm)
Signed in ink, 'Robert Frank Archive' and copyright credit stamps, and annotated in unidentified hands in pencil, red crayon, and ink on the verso.

Full Cataloguing

$40,000 - 60,000 

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 6 April 2022