Getty Acquires 25 Ansel Adams Photographs

  • March 05, 2012 14:52

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Ansel Adams' Mt. Williamson, Sierra Nevada, from Manzanar, California, negative 1944; print 1981. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin in Memory of Marjorie and Leonard Vernon. © 2012 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust.

A California couple has gifted 25 iconic images by acclaimed 20th century photographer Ansel Adams (American, 1902–1984) to the J. Paul Getty Museum. Carol Vernon and her husband Robert Turbin donated “The Museum Set” in memory of Marjorie and Leonard Vernon, who purchased the images directly from Adams, with the understanding that they would one day be donated to a museum. In pristine condition, the photographs enhance the Getty’s existing collection of 40 photographs by Adams.

In 1979, near the end of his seven decade career, Adams began to produce what he called “The Museum Set,” a project initiated with the help of Maggi Weston of Weston Gallery in Carmel, California. From over 2,500 of his negatives, Adams selected 75 images, which included photographs from as early as 1923 to as late as 1968. Collectors could purchase a “complete” set of 75 prints, or they could select their own set of 25 that Adams himself would print for purchase. Each set was called the “Ansel Adams Museum Set” and was purchased on the condition that the buyer would eventually donate their set to a museum.

“’The Museum Set’ is significant in several ways, the first being that it helps us understand how Adams evaluated his work, and how he wanted future generations to view it,” explains Judith Keller, senior curator in the Getty Museum’s Department of Photographs. “The set was initiated around the same time that Adams began writing his autobiography and within a few years after he co-founded the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona, so this project can be seen as one of self-reflection after a long and successful career.”

The acquired set was purchased in 1981 from the Weston Gallery by Leonard and Marjorie Vernon, residents of Los Angeles, who began buying photographs in 1976 and amassed an important collection of 19th and 20th century photography. As the collector who purchased each museum set was given the chance to select their own set of 25 prints, this particular grouping comprises the choices that the Vernons made, and is different from every other set in existence.

A large number of the prints feature two locations—Yosemite (nine prints) and the Sierra Nevadas (three prints). The collection also contains two prints from Alaska, three from Northern California, including an image of the “Golden Gate” in San Francisco Bay taken in 1932 before the bridge was constructed, and three from the Southwest, including Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (1941), which once held the record for the highest price ever paid for a photograph at auction. Although the majority of the prints are landscapes, the set does include two portraits—Georgia O’Keeffe and Orville Cox at the Canyon de Chelly National Monument (1937), and a close up of the face of Jose Clemente Orozco, taken in New York City in 1933.

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