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Ruth Bernhard and Imogen Cunningham - The Art of the Nude

Ruth Bernhard » Imogen Cunningham »

Exhibition: – 15 Aug 2003

John Stevenson Gallery

NY 10011 New York


When we suggested this exhibition to Ruth Bernhard (who is now in her 98th year), she was delighted, and she replied, "It is the second time in my life that Imogen and I have been shown together!" That is all the more reason why the exhibition is a special one indeed. No artists are more identified with fine photography than Ruth Bernhard and Imogen Cunningham. And none are more highly esteemed for sublime images of the human form. What a rare opportunity this is for us to see, side by side, the singularities and parallels of their styles. The overriding subject of the exhibition is the female nude, and it should not be overlooked that, in this instance, the artists are women as well. Plenty of male artists have created images of the female form. Yet there is a difference, and that is one more insight within this collection. But we do have an irresistible exception: among Imogen Cunningham's works, we include six male nudes, which are as rare as they are legendary. Imogen was the first woman to photograph a male nude. In 1915, the year of her marriage to artist Roi Partridge, Imogen made a series of plein air studies of Roi, posing in the mountain lakes above their home in Seattle. It created a scandal. Irritated by the reaction, Imogen immediately retired the negatives. They were never printed again, until the early 1970s, near the end of her life, when she received a Guggenheim Foundation grant. Using that, "the first extra money she ever had," Imogen made prints of some of her long-lost first works, so that they could be exhibited and published. This collection of the nudes of Roi is from that group, printed by Imogen herself. No earlier prints of these images are known. Early, vintage prints by Imogen are exceedingly rare today. To have them in a retrospective of Imogen's figurative works, on the scale of our exhibition, would probably be impossible, even for the great museums. We have the blessing, however, of the Imogen Cunningham Trust - and in particular, Imogen's son, Rondal Partridge (now 86, himself a master photographer) - which have provided us with our collection, made from Imogen's original negatives by Rondal's hand, and most of them are prints in handcoated platinum. Also soon to be exceedingly rare are our original prints by Ruth Bernhard. Ruth is no longer creating inventory, and so the prints we are displaying are virtually all that remain. Astute collectors should also know that Ruth has not raised her prices in decades, although the secondary, resale market now has some of her works as high as $20,000. With respect to both of these great artists, we are twice blessed, to be able to offer such affordable masterpieces. Because this exhibition is important - and because it can never be repeated - we are extending it through the summer. We have also made a catalog for our collectors who are unable to visit in person.