Los Angeles, CA— On Wednesday, December 6th, 2023, John Moran Auctioneers presented their long awaited 20th Century Photography: The Emergence of Modernism auction. The impressive collection featured works by Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Ansel Adams, and more. Collectors from all over the world took interest in this exciting auction, resulting in $1,000,000* of sales!

The highlight of the event was lot 15. The 1929 work, “Two Callas,” by Imogen Cunningham sold for an incredible $292,100*, making a new world auction record for the image! Cunningham’s botanical photographs are a unique and significant part of her legacy in photography and American Modernism. “Two Callas,” printed in the 1920s, stands out as one of her most celebrated works in this genre. Prints of this work, whether early or later editions, are exceptionally rare. Cunningham temporarily misplaced the negative for this beautiful image but rediscovered it in 1973, enabling her to produce several prints before her passing in 1976.

Lot 4: Edward Weston (1886-1958), “Prologue To A Sad Spring” $215,900

Lot 4: Edward Weston (1886-1958), “Prologue To A Sad Spring” $215,900

Excitement and anticipation for this sale was present in the modern photography community with works coming from both the Fred Davis and Dr. Amy Conger estates. The new-to-market works by Edward Weston, “Prologue to a Sad Spring,” 1920, and “Cuernavaca,” 1925, each reached an impressive price realized of $215,900*. Edward Weston’s photograph “Prologue to a Sad Spring,” taken in March 1920, features his photographer colleague, frequent model, and erstwhile lover, Margrethe Mather, as she stands in front of a whitewashed barn, cocooned inside a fringed shawl, her facial features partially hidden by a broad brimmed hat. By juxtaposing her stolid figure against the pale shadow of a gnarled, leafless tree, Weston imbues his image with a pervasive melancholy.

“Cuernavaca,” happened in late November 1925, when Weston returned to Cuernavaca where he had been invited to spend a few days in Fred Davis’s home. This time he took a different approach when he photographed the same statuesque palm tree he had recorded a year earlier. In this second image, he eliminates the fronds and clouds that are featured in the first version. He also crops the palm trunk at top and bottom, precisely centering it in his composition, and he emphasizes its texture and solidity by placing it against a dramatically darkened background.

Other notable Edward Weston works included Untitled [Nude], 1923, “Bathing Pool,” 1919, and “Nahui Olin,” 1923. Selling for $114,300*, Weston’s Untitled [Nude], 1923 captures a close-up of Margrethe Mather, focusing on her right breast, her nipple tightly captured in the crook of her elbow and her flesh rather alarmingly punctuated by the pressure of her carefully manicured fingernails. Weston had never utilized this kind of aesthetic approach before, but he had recently been inspired by an audience with the most famous photographer in the United States, Alfred Stieglitz.
“Bathing Pool,” 1919, brought in an impressive $88,900*. Weston shot “Bathing Pool” in 1919 along with other swimming pool photographs that are unlike any Weston had previously taken. Asymmetrically balanced, with an emphasis on geometry and angles, shadows, and reflections, they represent a rather sudden and remarkable addition to Weston’s aesthetic vocabulary. The swimming pool photographs are prime examples of the type of soft-focus, romantic photography known as Pictorialism that Weston was then championing.

Lot 29: Ansel Adams (1902-1984), “Half Dome, Blowing Snow” $19,050

Lot 29: Ansel Adams (1902-1984), “Half Dome, Blowing Snow” $19,050

His 1923 work, “Nahui Olin,” achieved a price realized of $63,500*. Carmen Mondragón, a Mexican poet known for her transformation into Nahui Olin, is immortalized in this captivating portrait captured by Weston as part of his “Heroic Heads” series, a collection of photographs featuring intellectual friends from the artistic and cultural circles in which he and his companion, Tina Modotti, moved during their time in Mexico. This striking image was considered one of Weston’s most successful works from his Mexican period.

Lot 16 offered another Cunningham, “Rubber Plant 3,” circa 1929. After multiple bids were placed, this work earned a surprising $31,750*. This print is likely one of the earliest versions, and currently, it’s the only known print from this negative on this specific smooth, glossy photographic paper. While Cunningham’s “Two Callas” showcases a full frame of blossoms, leaves, and stamen, “Rubber Plant 3” exemplifies minimalism, emphasizing the plant’s sculptural leaves against a dark background. “Two Callas” and “Rubber Plant 3” in the Frederick Davis Collection may seem quite different at first glance, but their harmonious relationship becomes apparent when viewed together.

Additional highlights included works by Ansel Adams and Tina Modotti. Lot 29 presented “Half Dome, Blowing Snow,” circa 1955 by Adams. From the edition printed in 1976 for “Portfolio VII”, this photo garnered a winning bid of $19,050*. “William Spratling,” 1929, lot 14, was taken by Tina Modotti and sold for $16,510*. Tina Modotti took a series of portraits of William Spratling in the late 1920s, depicting a man, often smiling and at ease in his new environment. However, Spratling chose this particular image, the most straightforward if not personal of Modotti’s works, to inscribe “the warmest regards and sincerest appreciation of his friendship” to Fred Davis.

To see the full sale results, and essays on the works, go to www.johnmoran.com. 
*-Includes buyer’s premium.

— Brenda Smith, John Moran Auctioneers

Lot 15: Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976), “Two Callas” $292,100

Lot 15: Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976), “Two Callas” $292,100

“The highlight of the event was lot 15. The 1929 work, "Two Callas," by Imogen Cunningham sold for an incredible $292,100*, making a new world auction record for the image!”

Upcoming Auctions

John Moran Auctioneers is beginning their 2024 lineup with the Studio Fine Art- Online auction, Tuesday, January 23rd, followed by the Studio Decorative Art & Jewelry Online sale, Tuesday, February 6th. Be sure to mark your calendars for these upcoming auctions so you don’t miss out on the action, and the treasures!     

Studio Fine Art Online: Tuesday, January 23rd | 10:00 am PDT
Studio Decorative Art & Jewelry Online: Tues., Feb. 6th | 10:00 am PDT
Art of the American West Online: Wednesday, February 7th | 12:00 pm PDT
Art + Design: Tuesday, February 27th | 12:00 pm PDT
Art of the American West: Tuesday, March 12th | 12:00 pm PDT
The Traditional Collector: Tuesday, March 26th | 12:00 pm PDT

For upcoming highlights, online catalogues, and more information on these sales, visit Moran’s website: www.johnmoran.com and follow us on social media: @johnmoran_auctioneers. Along with our website, bidding is now available online via Moran’s new mobile app, Moran Mobile, available on both iOS and Android operating systems. You may also choose to bid by phone or absentee.       

Consignments are always welcome:     
Email us at [email protected] today!