Edward Weston


"Palma Cuernavaca, Mexico," 1924

Palladium print on paper hinged to a thin board mount
Signed and dated in pencil on the mount, at right: Edward Weston
Image/Sheet: 9.5" H x 7.5" W; Mount: 17" H x 13" W

  • Provenance: The Artist
    Frederick W. Davis, acquired from the above
    Private Collection, Southern California, by descent from the above
  • Literature:
    Conger 135/1924
    Amy Conger, "Edward Weston's Early Photography," Ph.D. diss. (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico, 1982), figs. 24, 40.
    "El Cielo de Mexico," La Antorcha 1, no. 7 (November 15, 1924): 20-21. [Illustrated as: "Untitled (Palma Cuernavaca)"].
    Beaumont Newhall, "Supreme Instants: The Photography of Edward Weston" (New York: New York Graphic Society, 1986), plate 13.
  • Notes: In mid-August 1924, Weston and Modotti spent five days in the city of Cuernavaca, Mexico, where they had been invited to stay at the home of Wallace Payne Moats, an American businessman who had prospered in both the mining and lumber industries in Mexico. Weston had recently met Moats's socialite wife, the former Leone Blackmore, and their sixteen-year-old daughter, Alice-Leone, when they came to his studio to have their portraits made.(1) Cuernavaca was a picturesque, luxuriantly tropical town, nestled among a cluster of hills, that had long attracted wealthy Americans and Europeans because of its lush beauty and temperate climate. Although Weston had fully expected the Moats's residence to be pretentious, he was pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually "lovely….a delightful place."(2)

    While in Cuernavaca, Weston and Modotti also visited the home of Fred Davis, who lived in a historic Colonial-era home that he had lovingly restored and furnished with Mexican crafts and paintings. The property also boasted an impressive garden with a wide array of exotic botanical specimens, including an assortment of palm trees. Immediately upon returning to Mexico City, Weston wrote down his thoughts about one of the photographs he had taken in Cuernavaca: "[I]n the garden of Fred Davis I responded to a towering palm which, seen through my short focus lens with the camera tilted almost straight up, seemed to touch the sky. I have already printed from the negative and those who have seen it respond with exclamations of delight. It's a great cylindrical, almost white trunk, brilliant in the sun, topped by a circle of dark but sungleaming leaves; it cuts the plate diagonally from a base of white clouds."(3)

    On August 31, Weston recorded a comment his friend Monna Alfau had made about the palm photograph after seeing it for the first time: "Ah, Edward, that is one of the finest things you have ever done. Aesthetically it has the same value as your smoke stacks."(4) Alfau was referring to a series of photographs Weston had taken in the autumn of 1922 at the American Rolling Mills Company, a steel factory in Ohio. As his earliest photographs of an industrial subject, they represented his first attempts to convey a modernist aesthetic—one that exemplified architect Louis Sullivan's famous axiom, "Form Follows Function." Weston also added his own musings about the photograph: "Just the trunk of a palm towering up into the sky; not even a real one—a palm on a piece of paper, a reproduction of nature: I wonder why it should affect one emotionally—and I wonder what prompted me to record it. Many photographs might have been done of this palm, and they would be just a photograph of a palm—Yet this picture is but a photograph of a palm, plus something—something—and I cannot quite say what that something is—and who is there to tell me?"(5)

    In early October, Weston recorded several attempts to print a few of his earlier negatives on an assortment of papers, sometimes adding bichromate to bring out the brilliancy. He conducted one of his experiments on the palm negative: "[The] new printing of my palm…is so dazzling in its' [sic] brilliance—and the improvement shows what might be done by repeated experiments—the old print I was satisfied with and only reprinted the negative for [cinematographer] Roberto [Turnbull] who especially wished it."(6) Weston definitely included the image in his 1924 Aztec Land exhibition. In a review, written in the form of a poem, Francisco Monterde Garcia Icazbalceta refers to it as "the trunk of the palm tree that keeps rising like the arrow shot by a native archer," and the November 15 issue of the journal "La Antorcha" features a two-page pictorial spread that depicts five Weston photographs including "Palma Cuernavaca."(7)

    Prints of this image are rare, and the provenance of this one makes it highly desirable.

    (1) Edward Weston, "The Daybooks of Edward Weston: Vol. 1 Mexico," ed. Nancy Newhall (Millerton, NY: Aperture, 1973), 48-49. [Feburary 7 and 20, 1924].
    (2) Ibid., 90. [August 15, 1924].
    (3) Ibid., 90. [August 15, 1924].
    (4) Monna Alfau, quoted in Weston, "Daybooks," 91. [August 31, 1924].
    (5) Weston, "Daybooks," 91. [August 31, 1924].
    (6) Edward Weston to Flora Weston, "Notes," October 2, 1924, included in a letter dated October 5, 1924, Edward Weston Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ.
    (7) See Francisco Monterde Garcia Icazbalceta, "Arte. La Exposición de Edward Weston," "Antena: Revista," no. 5 (November 1924): 11, and "El Cielo de Mexico," "La Antorcha" 1:7 (November 15, 1924): 21. Citations courtesy of Susan Herzig & Paul Hertzmann, Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc., San Francisco, CA.

    We are grateful to Paul Hertzmann of Paul M. Hertzmann, Inc., San Francisco, for his assistance in cataloguing this work and to Beth Gates Warren for her essay contribution.
  • Condition: Available upon request.

    Framed under double-sided Plexiglas: 26" H x 22" W x 1" D

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