NEW YORK, NY -- Imogen Cunningham’s 1925 Magnolia Blossom is a central image in the famed photographer’s extensive oeuvre. It was recognized as an innovative work early on, chosen as it was for the seminal exhibition, the Internationale Ausstellung des Deutschen Werkbunds Film und Foto held at the Städtische Ausstellungshallen in Dresden in 1929, which helped define what László Moholy-Nagy termed “New Vision” photography. Man Ray, a quintessential Modernist, used the same subject a year later, in his Magnolia Blossom, Antibes of 1926, and it is a reasonably conjecture that he was aware of her photograph. Cunningham’s image was one from an extensive series of rigorous studies of the magnolia blossom, both bud and flower, that she produced.
Cunningham had studied photography in Germany at the Technische Hochschule after a two-year apprenticeship in the studio of Edward Sheriff Curtis, before opening her first studio in Seattle. Initially producing works essentially Pictorialist in nature, she graduated in the 1920s to detailed studies of natural forms, and she was early championed and supported by Edward Weston. Both were founder member of the West Coast modernist f/64 photographic group. The kinship between their work at this time is clearly illustrated by comparison with Weston’s Peppers [5P], 1929, a late print (by his son Brett) of which is also in the sale.
Both photographers exhibited the same almost ruthless lack of sentimentality about the natural world in their work, especially remarkable in Cunningham’s floral studies. To make the magnolia flower merely pretty would have been a trivial task, but she transformed the blossom into a near-abstract study of light, shade and form, imbued with a quiet luminosity. This photograph is an emblematic and enduring statement of how photography can transform our vision of the mundane world.
Auction June 14, 2018 at 10am
Exhibition June 9 - 11
Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976), Magnolia Blossom, 1925.
Gelatin silver print, 10 1/4 x 13 1/4 inches (260 x 337 mm), likely printed 1950s, flush-mounted to board, signed in pencil and dated on the mount, the verso with Cunningham's 1331 Green Street label with typed title and date.
From the Estate of Felice Ross