Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Paul Strand: The Philadelphia Museum of Art Acquired 3,000 Photographs by Paul Strand

Paul Strand’s “Blind Woman” (negative 1916, print c. 1920s), “Mlle. Pogany, New York (Brancusi)” (1922), and “Man Carving Chair II, Mr. Bolster, Vermont” (1943) are among the more than 3,000 works acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art acquired, through several gifts and a purchase agreement with the Aperture Foundation, the core collection of photographs by Paul Strand, one of the pre-eminent photographers of the 20th century. Through the generosity of philanthropists Lynne and Harold Honickman, Marjorie and Jeffrey Honickman, and H.F. “Gerry” and Marguerite Lenfest, the Museum has received as partial and promised gifts 1422 images from The Paul Strand Archive at the Aperture Foundation, as well as 566 master prints from Strand’s negatives by the artist Richard Benson. The Museum has also entered into an agreement with the Aperture Foundation to purchase an additional 1276 photographs. As a whole, this acquisition comprises more than 3000 prints and lantern slides, including the finest examples of every image in the Archive. Together with other photographs by Strand already owned by the Museum, this acquisition makes the Philadelphia Museum of Art the world’s most important repository for the study of his work.

All of the photographs and lantern slides are now housed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art where they are being studied in preparation for a major retrospective devoted to the artist that is scheduled for 2014.

Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer, stated: “The Paul Strand Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art will rank among the finest and most significant groups of works by key figures in the history of photography held by any museum in this country. As the definitive collection of one of the 20th century’s greatest photographers, it will also be a critical component of the Museum’s internationally distinguished holdings of modern art, which include the renowned Louise and Walter Arensberg and A. E. Gallatin collections. Given the significance of Strand’s achievement as an artist it will, I believe, become a cornerstone of the Museum’s collections, much like our extensive holdings of works by Marcel Duchamp and Thomas Eakins.

“This is a major achievement,” Mr. Rub went on to say. “We are exceptionally grateful to the dedicated support of our enlightened donors, the Honickmans and the Lenfests, who recognized the value of their gifts to the Museum’s mission and to the study of the history of photography and worked together to help us strengthen the Museum’s collection. Our longstanding relationship with the Aperture Foundation, in particular through the work of the late Michael E. Hoffman, who formed the Strand archive at Aperture and served for many years as the Museum’s Adjunct Curator of Photographs, has enabled us to create a repository of the work of this artist that will chronicle his seminal contributions to the development of modern art and will advance the study of his remarkable body of work and prominent place in the history of photography.”

Celso Gonzalez-Falla, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Aperture Foundation, commented on the placement of this extraordinary collection. “Given Aperture’s long association with Strand and the commitment that the Philadelphia Museum of Art has made to the development of its world-renowned holdings of photography, it is an ideal place for these works. This is true not simply because of the Museum’s long association with Aperture, but also because this gift and purchase, when added to the Museum’s existing collection of more than 600 exceptional works by Strand, provides a full picture of his remarkable achievement, adding strength to strength and creating a true and enduring public benefit. We salute the vision and perspicacity of Peter MacGill of Pace/MacGill Gallery, who has worked closely with Aperture to ensure that this important collection would find a permanent home in a great museum.”

The portion of The Paul Strand Archive that the Museum has made a commitment to purchase from the Aperture Foundation includes many remarkable photographs. Among them are two of Strand’s rare gum bichromate prints, which date to the earliest years of his career. Also included are masterpiece platinum and silver portraits of his first wife, Rebecca Salsbury, and several other key portraits of his circle in the 1910s and 1920s, including his father Jacob, painter John Marin, and fellow photographer Kurt Baasch; unique prints such as a 1922 image of Constantin Brancusi’s sculpture Mlle. Pogany and a solarized portrait of the architect Henry Churchill (1922); major examples of his nature and machine abstractions, including the unique Rock, Georgetown, Maine (1927) and a rare pair of vintage platinum and silver prints of Fern, New England (1928); and superb prints from his early sojourns to the Gaspé Peninsula, the Southwest, and Mexico.

“Combined with the Museum’s existing holdings, this acquisition will give the Museum an unrivaled collection of Strand’s critical early work and his photographs of the Southwest and Mexico, all recognized as high points of his career,” commented Peter Barberie, the Museum’s Brodsky Curator of Photographs. “Added to the recent gifts to the Museum from the Honickmans and Lenfests, the acquisition will also enable us to assemble nearly complete sets of vintage prints from all of Strand’s later projects, beginning with his prized New England photographs of the 1940s and running through the final series he made in the garden of his home in Orgeval, France.”

The Paul Strand Collection will permit the study of Strand’s career with prints from the majority of his negatives, including most known variants and croppings of individual images. It will, moreover, enable the Museum to keep together several prints made from a single negative using different processes, at different times, and with different papers. As such, The Paul Strand Collection will be an essential resource for any scholar of 20th-century photography. In addition to 2,768 prints and lantern slides by Strand himself, the acquisition includes the gift of 566 gelatin silver and platinum prints from Strand’s negatives by the eminent American photographer Richard Benson, made for Aperture in the 1980s. Benson has printed Strand’s negatives since the early 1970s, when he worked closely with the artist. As part of its ongoing publishing initiatives, the Aperture Foundation will prepare a Paul Strand catalogue raisonne in cooperation with the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

About Paul Strand

Paul Strand (American, 1890–1976) is widely recognized as one of the most significant artists in the history of photography. He first studied with the social documentary photographer Lewis Hine at New York’s Ethical Culture School from 1907-1909, and subsequently became close to the pioneering photographer Alfred Stieglitz, America’s greatest champion of modern art at the beginning of the 20th century. Strand fused these powerful influences and explored the modernist possibilities of the camera more fully than any other photographer before 1920, producing a celebrated series of abstractions that reduced still life and architectural elements to simple arrangements of shapes, while at the same time creating some of the earliest “street photographs” of people he caught unawares in urban New York settings. These diverse experiments produced iconic masterpieces such as Wall Street (1915) and Blind Woman (1916) and are now acknowledged as major contributions to modernist art, having introduced subjects that influenced leading photographers of the twentieth century such as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Robert Frank.

In the 1920s, Strand explored the camera’s potential to exceed human vision, making intimate, detailed portraits, and recording the nuances of machine and natural forms. He also created portraits, landscapes, and architectural studies on various travels to the Southwest, Canada’s Gaspé Peninsula, and Mexico. The groups of pictures of these regions, in tandem with his documentary work as a filmmaker in the 1930s, convinced Strand that the medium’s great purpose lay in broad and richly detailed photographs of specific places and communities. For the rest of his career he pursued such projects in New England, France, Italy, the Hebrides, Morocco, Romania, Ghana, and other locales, producing celebrated books including Time in New England (1950), and Un Paese (1955), about the village of Luzzara, Italy. Together, these later series form one of the great photographic statements about modern experience.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has had a special relationship with Paul Strand’s work since 1971, when Adjunct Curator of Photographs Michael E. Hoffman organized for the Museum Strand’s first major retrospective since 1945. Paul Strand: A Retrospective, 1971, debuted in Philadelphia and traveled to St. Louis, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. In 1972, Strand gave the Museum one of his most important early platinum prints, City Hall Park, New York (1915), along with six other works, and the Museum purchased 10 prints including The Family, Luzzara, Italy (1953). These acquisitions were followed by further purchases in 1974 and gifts from Strand’s widow, Hazel, in 1977 and 1978. In 1980, the artist’s estate gave the Museum the entire contents of his retrospective exhibition, which numbered 497 prints and included an unparalleled group of seven of his early exhibition platinum prints, among them the masterpieces Wall Street (1915), Man in a Derby (1916), and Telegraph Poles, Texas (1915).

Highlights of the acquisition

Railroad Sidings, New York
Platinum print, 1915
Promised gift of Lynne and Harold Honickman

The Museum already owns an unparalleled group of masterpiece platinum prints of Strand’s breakthrough photographs of 1915-16. Railroad Sidings is one of the last such prints still in private hands. Alfred Stieglitz included it in Strand’s first exhibition at 291, in March of 1916. It shows Strand moving from the Pictorialist example set by Stieglitz (as in his iconic 1902 picture The Hand of Man, possibly made in the same rail yards), towards the abstraction that he would explore most fully in his still life photographs of the same moment. When Strand, together with Charles Sheeler, made the 1922 film Manhatta, about New York City, he returned to the sites of two of his photographs—Railroad Sidings and Wall Street—to include them in the film.

Blind Woman, New York
Gelatin silver print, c. 1920s (negative 1916)
Partial and promised gift of Marguerite and H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest

This early gelatin silver print of one of Strand’s iconic images will join seven other versions—including his 1916 lantern slide, a 1916 photogravure from the journal Camera Work, and five variant gelatin silver prints Strand made at various times after the 1940s, permitting comprehensive study of how he presented and thought about the picture throughout his career. The Museum will have similar groupings for a number of other important works, including Wall Street, Man in a Derby, and The White Fence, Port Kent, New York.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Texas
Platinum print, c. 1917
Promised gift of Marjorie and Jeffrey Honickman

This sensitive portrait of the painter is a very personal document of Strand’s visit to Texas in 1917 and the blossoming of what became a lifelong friendship. It is the only portrait Strand made of O’Keeffe, and perhaps the only print he made of the image. The Paul Strand Collection will include masterful portraits of other figures in Strand’s circle, including painters John Marin and Marsden Hartley, sculptor Gaston Lachaise, photographer Kurt Baasch, and critic Waldo Frank.

Rebecca, New York
Platinum print, c. 1921
Purchase from the Aperture Foundation

Strand photographed his first wife, Rebecca Salsbury, in many sittings between 1919 and 1933, exploring the camera’s ability to record details of the human visage and emotions. This introspective platinum print is among the most riveting portraits he made of her. The Paul Strand Collection will include 24 vintage portraits of Rebecca Salsbury, including seven platinum prints.

Mlle. Pogany, New York (Brancusi)
Platinum print, 1922
Purchase from the Aperture Foundation

The acquisition includes many unique works by Strand, which together greatly enrich the depth and complexity of The Paul Strand Collection. Aside from individual works such as this photograph of sculptures by Constantin Brancusi, a remarkable document of Strand’s commitment to modernist art, the collection will include all 70 of Strand’s extant lantern slides, which are critical for studying his practice between 1909 and 1917; 34 small platinum prints made on his first, formative trip to Europe in 1911; three of his gum bichromate prints, of which he made very few; two experiments with a Rectoflex camera, made in Italy in 1952; and the maquette for his 1950 book La France de profil, which includes 44 gelatin silver prints.

Fern, New England
Platinum print, 1928
Purchase from the Aperture Foundation


Fern, New England
Gelatin silver print, 1940s
Purchase from the Aperture Foundation

Strand’s exploration of the camera’s objectivity in his nature and machine studies of the 1920s included his thoughtful analysis of the differences between platinum and gelatin silver prints, each of which he preferred for certain subjects. This pair of prints from the same negative shows the nuances Strand sought in his photographic prints. Altogether, the Paul Strand Collection will include more than 50 vintage or early prints of Strand’s key photographs of plants, driftwood, rocks, and machine forms in the 1920s.

Hacienda, Saltillo, Mexico
Platinum print, 1932
Purchase from the Aperture Foundation

This subtle platinum print shows Strand’s sensitivity to architectural motifs. In its emphasis on geometries and worn surfaces, it relates both to his contemporaneous work in the Southwest, and to the masterful architectural views he would make in New England in the 1940s. Strand’s 1932-33 Mexico photographs, which comprise portraits, landscapes, and views of art and architecture, are widely considered to be one of his greatest bodies of work. The Paul Strand Collection will include 28 vintage platinum prints and twelve vintage or early gelatin silver prints of his Mexican subjects.

Man Carving Chair II, Mr. Bolster, Vermont
Gelatin silver print, 1943
Purchase from the Aperture Foundation

Strand’s 1943-46 New England photographs mark a turning point in his career: his decision to methodically document specific regions through a mix of landscapes, artifacts, and portraits, and his endeavor to produce books of his pictures, the first of which would be the 1950 publication Time in New England. Strand’s choice to focus on the hardy culture of New England during the difficult years of World War II contributes to the great power of these photographs, as seen in this riveting portrait of Mr. Bolster, an 83-year-old man crafting a chair outside his barn. Strand would go on to produce groups of photographs comparable to his New England series in France, Italy, the Hebrides Islands, Egypt, Morocco, Roumania, and Ghana. The Paul Strand Collection will include nearly-complete sets of vintage prints of all these projects, beginning with the New England pictures.

Place to Meet, Luzzara, Italy
Gelatin silver print, 1953
Purchase from the Aperture Foundation

In 1953 Strand travelled to the village of Luzzara, where he made an incredible group of photographs including portraits of many individuals who are identified simply by their role in the community—the mayor, the cheese maker, the baker’s wife. He also made group portraits such as this one of elders gathered in a small piazza. Strand was drawn to candid portraiture throughout his career, and he was also attuned to the ways public social gatherings—however informal—can reveal volumes about a time and place. This is one of many superb pictures he made of similar subjects throughout his career.

Paul Strand, Rebecca, New York, ca. 1923, Palladium print 19.4 x 24.6 cm (7 5/8 x 9 11/16 in.). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Marilyn Walter Grounds, 1989. Aperture Foundation, Inc., Paul Strand Archive.

The Family, Luzzara, Italy. 1953

New York, 1916

“Wall Street”