Past Auction

Ansel Adams: The Complete Museum Set

Thu, Dec 14, 2017 at 10am EST |
New York
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Ansel Adams Museum Set Achieves $1.2 Million

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  • Ansel Adams Museum Set Achieves $1.2 Million on December 14, 2017
  • Comprising 75 gelatin silver prints of Adams’ greatest images, each signed in pencil by the legendary photographer.

NEW YORK, NY -- Highlighting Doyle's auction of Photographs on December 14, 2017 was an Ansel Adams Museum Set that achieved $1.2 million. Ansel Adams (1902-1984) was the preeminent 20th century photographer of Western landscape, and a founder of the influential Group f.64, which included such luminaries as Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham. Prepared several years before Adams’s death, this Museum Set of seventy-five images is among the most comprehensive known to exist. Such sets more typically consist of between twenty-five and fifty images.

This was the first time a set has been offered with the permission of The Ansel Adams Gallery and the artist’s grandson, Matthew Adams. Legal restrictions generally prevent sales of Museum Sets. See the press release of November 28, 2017 from Mr. Adams at The Ansel Adams Gallery. Read below or click here.

As Mr. Adams notes: “It is clear that the prints in this specific set are no longer subject to the legal restrictions that Ansel made” and “the terms of the agreement with Ansel have been met and it is for the College of New Rochelle to determine its disposition.” He adds “We believe this is an exception, and that, by contract, other Museum Sets must remain intact and intended for public display”; this is therefore likely to be a unique opportunity to purchase prints from a Museum Set.

The Museum Sets contain as their nucleus ten of the most famous Adams images, including Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico 1941 (est. $30,000-40,000); Mt. Williamson from Manzanar (est. $20,000-30,000); Aspens, Northern New Mexico (est. $12,000-18,000); Winter Sunrise, the Sierra Nevada (est. $15,000-25,000); Monolith, the Face of Half Dome (est. $15,000-25,000); Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite (est. $25,000-35,000); Sand Dunes, Sunrise, Death Valley (est. $15,000-25,000); Tenaya Creek, Dogwood, Rain (est. $7,000-10,000); The Tetons and Snake River, Grand Teton National Park (est. $30,000-50,000) and Frozen Lake and Cliffs, the Sierra Nevada (est. $20,000-30,000). There were a further sixty possible prints that could be purchased as part of a set. Those few who purchased all seventy received an five additional prints, the majestic 1940 Surf Sequence (est. $40,000-60,000).

Spanning Adams’ entire career, this offering includes all the artist’s best-known work, in prints of scrupulous quality prepared in Adams’ workshop under his direct supervision and signed by him. The Museum Set, acquired by a private collector from Adams in the 1980s, was donated to The College of New Rochelle in 2012, and was offered for sale on their behalf.

The Ansel Adams Museum Set comprised lots 127 through 198 in the Photographs auction on December 14.

Statement from Matthew Adams Excerpted from a Press Release

In the late 1970s, as the prices for Ansel Adams’ original photographs exploded in value, Ansel and his advisors developed a plan to be able to have his work more easily exhibited and seen by future generations. He created the Museum Set edition, sets of prints of his photographs, mostly the classic, iconic images that people have come to know and love, but also works that, while not as popular, he felt were important to his legacy. These sets would be sold, at a significant discount to then current prices, to carefully selected individuals with a history of making donations to art and educational institutions, under the agreement between Ansel and the purchaser that the set would be donated, in its entirety, to an art or educational institution.

The original agreements always named the originally intended designee, and allowed for Ansel to unilaterally cancel the contract if he felt that the purchaser was not going to follow through with the agreement.

The standard form of the agreements was later (posthumously) amended to reflect that the sets were to always remain intact, and if the purchaser were to sell or deaccession them, they had to go to a public or nonprofit art or education institution. The same stipulation was required of any successor owner, that they remain intact and sold or transferred to a public or nonprofit art or education institution, with the same ongoing stipulation. Prints purchased under those later contracts, therefore, by legal agreement, did not, do not, and will not have an unrestricted title that can easily be transferred. The Museum Sets and individual prints from Museum Sets have irregularly come to the market, almost always from the original purchaser or their descendants. As this is contrary to the written agreement between Ansel and the purchaser, we (Ansel’s family and estate) have consistently and successfully fought to enforce the agreement that they be donated to an institution. We have been assisted by many other people and institutions – dealers and auction houses throughout the United States – who recognize that the agreements with Ansel are legally binding and as such have refused to offer them for sale as contrary to law, precedent, and Ansel’s intent. We appreciate those efforts and everyone’s continued vigilance.

On December 14, 2017, a Museum Set will be available through Doyle Auctions in New York City. This set was initially acquired in 1981 from Ansel under the original standard agreement. It was donated by the family of the original purchaser to the College of New Rochelle, where it has been exhibited for students, faculty, and the neighboring public. While we would of course prefer that it stay intact and on public display, the terms of the agreement with Ansel have been met and it is for the College of New Rochelle to determine its disposition.

We have worked with the College to clearly identify the provenance of these prints. Each print is marked on the reverse with a unique number from Ansel’s studio and the “Museum Set” wet stamp.

Also on each print in this set are two wet stamps:

Collection of
The College of New Rochelle
Gift of Caryl Horwitz


Deaccessioned 2017
by the Board of Trustees of
The College of New Rochelle

It is clear that the prints in this specific set are no longer subject to the legal restrictions that Ansel made. We believe this is an exception, and that, by contract, other Museum Sets must remain intact and intended for public display. We will continue to enforce Ansel’s agreements to the fullest extent possible, and ask the broader art photography market to do the same. In general, Museum Set prints that are not clearly marked and identifiable as having been deaccessioned from a public or nonprofit institution are on the market contrary to Ansel’s agreements, have restricted title. We hope that the market will continue to shun these transactions and value them commensurately with any restricted sale item.


Matthew Adams
President, The Ansel Adams Gallery
Grandson, Ansel Adams

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  • Estate of Dr. Paul Hershenson
  • Estate of Edith Bayer
  • Property from a New York Corporate Collection
  • Property from the Watermill Center, Water Mill, New York
  • The College of New Rochelle
  • The James P. and Joan M. Warburg Collection

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