Sotheby’s has secured a major collection of Ansel Adams photographs for auction this winter. More than 100 pictures spanning Adams’ career will go up for sale during “A Grand Vision: The David H. Arrington Collection of Ansel Adams Master” on December 14th at Sotheby’s New York headquarters.
The collection of Adams photographs was amassed by collector and Texas oil executive David H. Arrington; it is among the largest private collections of Adams work. The sale comprises 123 lots and carries a pre-sale estimate of $4.2 million to $6.2 million.
“If there is one photographer that is synonymous with the medium and American landscape its probably Ansel Adams,” said Emily Bierman, Sotheby’s head of photographs in New York. The most valuable work of the collection is Adams’s 9.25 inch by 12 inch gelatin silver print photograph Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941, among one of Adam’s most widely recognized images. The print on offer is known to be the earliest print of the image ever to come to market, according to Sotheby’s. It is expected to achieve a price between $700,000 and $1 million.
“The prints of the image exist from different dates. It is a negative that Adams revisited throughout his career, and the significance of this particular photograph is kind of two-fold: it is the earliest printing from the negative that has come to market; it is undeniably early based on its physical characteristics, and also its provenance,” said Bierman. Sidney Liebes, former chairman of San Francisco department store, H. Liebes & Co. acquired the piece from Adams around 1941-42; it was later purchased by Arrington. The highest price paid for a print of Moonrise is $609,600, made at Sotheby’s New York in 2006.
“The earlier that a print was made, close to the time when the photographer made the negative, is generally what the photographer had in mind for how it should look, how the photographer visualized the end result,” said Bierman of the present edition. Describing the print Bierman noted the “punctuated whites that are in the details in the foreground,” among the standout details of the earlier work. “You have all of the subtly of tone, these great modulated grey tones, true luminous whites and rich black,” added Bierman. “Its a completely different animal,” the specialist said of the print in comparison to Adam’s later negatives of the image.
Another of the top lots is Aspens, Northern Mexico, printed in 1968, carries an estimate of $250,000-350,000. The present work featured in a survey dedicated to the artist in 2016 at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth. Elsewhere in the sale a large-scale print (84.75 x 119.75 inches) of Yosemite Valley made in the mid-1950s for the American Trust Company is expected to achieve a price between $70,000 and $100,000.
Several works in the collection sale Arrington acquired directly from the photographers descendants, and purchased others privately. The collector bought one print of Yosemite Valley, formerly owned by Oakland patron Richard Lorenz at Bonhams New York in 2008 for $6,000. The work is expected to sell for a price of $70,000-100,000 in December.
Grand Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming, 1942, a large-scale print, has an estimate of $400,000 and $600,000. Adams photographed the view of Jackson Hole on commission for the Department of the Interior. It is one of less than ten mural-sized prints reproduced by Adams, according to Sotheby’s statement on the sale. In 2010, another large-scale edition of this photograph realized $350,000 at Sotheby’s. In October 2013, the work came to the market again, where the price jumped to $401,000, against an estimate of $2500,00 to $350,000.
The June 2010 Polaroid corporate collection sale at Sotheby’s, which generated $12.4 million was the last time a significant collection of Adams’ pictures came up at auction and brought a new benchmark for the artist. Adams’s mural-sized print Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park, likely printed in the 1950s or 1960s made a record price of $722,500. Clearing Winter Storm’, ‘Yosemite National Park’ and ‘California 1938’ made $559,500 during a Christie’s sale benefitting the Elton John Aids Foundation in 2017.
Adams editions range in prices drastically depending on print date, size and condition. In December 2019, the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, home to a large portion of the photographer’s archive sold a group of works from the collection to benefit the CCP’s acquisition fund at Christie’s, generating a total of $1.1 million. In that sale, the top lot was a 1970s dated print of Moonrise, which sold for $75,000 against an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000.