Imogen Cunningham


"Two Callas," 1925-1929

Silver bromide enlargement print on paper mounted to a thin board mount
Signed in pencil on the mount, at right: Imogen Cunningham; titled on the artist's Mills College label affixed to the verso of the mount
Image/Sheet: 9.75" H x 7.375" W; Mount: 16" H x 14" W

  • Provenance: The Artist
    Grete Heilbuth (agent for the artist), acquired from the above
    Frederick W. Davis, acquired from the above, Mexico, June 1932
    Private Collection, Southern California, by descent from the above
  • Literature: David W. Prall, "Aesthetic Judgment" (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1929), 57. [Titled here: Two Lilies]
    "Das Atelier des Photographen 38," no.10 (1929). [Titled here: Zwei Calles]
    "The Pictorialist, A Compilation of Photographs from the Fourteenth Annual International Salon of Pictorial Photography under the auspices of the Camera Pictorialists of Los Angeles" (Los Angeles: Adcraft, 1931), plate 18.
    "Impressions in Silver by Imogene [sic] Cunningham," "Los Angeles Museum Art News," April 1932.
    Minor White, ed. Aperture 1, no. 4 (1964): 145.
    Minor White, ed. "A Collection of Photographs," Aperture 14, no. 2 (Fall 1969).
    Margery Mann, "Imogen Cunningham: Photographs" (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1970), plate 13.
    Bill Jay, ed. "Album 5" (London: Aidan Ellis & Tristram Powell, 1970), 25.
    Robert Doty, ed. "Photography in America" (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art and Random House, 1974), 124.
    Allan Porter, ed. "Camera no.10" (October 1975): 21.
    Imogen Cunningham, "Imogen Cunningham: Die Poesie der Form" (Schaffhausen: Fotografie Forum Frankfurt, 1993), 21.
    Richard Lorenz, "Imogen Cunningham: Flora" (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1996), plate 10.
    Werner Bokelberg, "Happy Birthday Photography" (Zurich: Kunsthaus Zurich, 1989), 108.
    William A. Ewing, "Flora Photographica: Masterpieces of Flower Photography, 1835 to the Present" (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991), 24.
    Barbara Haskell, "The American Century: Art and Culture 1900-1950" (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1999), plate 389.
    Barbara Buhler Lynes, "Georgia O'Keeffe and the Calla Lily in American Art, 1860-1940" (New Haven and London: Yale University Press in association with the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Sante Fe, 2003), plate 11.
    Paul Martineau and Susan Ehrens, "Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective" (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2020), 123.
  • Notes: We are grateful to Susan Ehrens for her assistance in cataloguing this work and providing the lot notes.

    The artist's label verso was designed by Cunningham's artist husband, Roi Partridge, and used from 1929 to 1934.

    Imogen Cunningham's career as a photographer spanned an impressive seven decades, and today, several of her photographs are celebrated as iconic contributions to the history of the medium. Notable among them are her portraits of "Edward Weston and Margrethe Mather" (1922), "Frida Kahlo" (1931), "Martha Graham" (1931), "Alfred Stieglitz" (1934), "Morris Graves" (1950, 1973), and "Ruth Asawa" (1952). Her work also includes striking nude studies like "Triangles" (1928) and "Nude" (1932).

    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.

    Comparisons between Cunningham's "Two Callas" and Georgia O'Keeffe's large-scale calla lily paintings are often discussed. Both artists created close-up, full-framed images that emphasize the tactile three-dimensionality and sensuality of the calla lilies' blossoms, with their multilobed stamen.

    Prints of "Two Callas," 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. Vintage prints of "Two Callas" are found in the collections of The Art Institute of Chicago, the Eastman Museum in Rochester, and the Museum of Modern Art. Notably, an early print in private ownership is titled "Two Lilies."

    The scarcity of prints of "Two Callas," particularly those made by Cunningham on the matte surface photographic paper she exclusively used in the 1920s, along with the presence of Cunningham's Mills College P.O. label from her 1929 to 1934 period and the significant Frederick W. Davis provenance, all contribute to the print's exceptional importance.

    With the recent resurfacing of a trove of rare photographs in the Frederick W. Davis Estate, a new name is now being associated with the life and oeuvre of photographic artist Imogen Cunningham: Grete Heilbuth.

    German-born Grete Heilbuth (also known as Grete Hilbert, Marga Hilbert, and Grete Williams) immigrated to the United States in 1922, settling in Oakland, California. It is likely that Imogen Cunningham met Heilbuth in the early 1920s, when Cunningham's artist husband, Roi Partridge began teaching at Mills College, or by 1925, when Partridge became the first director of the Art Gallery at the college.

    In the Summer of 1932, Grete Heilbuth spent almost three months in Mexico City, gathering works by Mexican artists for a Fall exhibition at Courvoisier Gallery in San Francisco. During this time Heilbuth made a presentation of Cunningham's photographs to Frederick Davis. Among the nineteen photographs that Cunningham had shipped to Heilbuth in Mexico in June, the majority were botanical forms. Cunningham's notebooks indicates that four photographs were sold. "Rubber Plant" and "Two Callas," have both resurfaced in the Estate of Frederick W. Davis. The whereabouts of the other two Cunningham photographs, a portrait of Frida Kahlo and her botanical, "Aloe Bud," are unknown.
  • Condition: Available upon request.

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

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