In a curious way I am reminded of your work when I look at a fine Chinese blue and white vase that I enjoy every day. The Chinese artists drew their power from the long contemplation of objects until they had penetrated and had been penetrated by the reality of them. You achieve the same powerful effect by the choice of a detail which represents the particular whole, and, what's more, all related whole.
This wondrous abstraction of the human form, created in 1927, attests to Edward Weston’s success in creating a new visual dialect that would irrevocably alter the medium of photography. Weston’s experimentation with corporeal abstractions began in 1925, whilst in Mexico. Enamored by the Modernist visuals embraced by the country’s leading artists, Weston relinquished his earlier Pictorialist proclivity in favor of a style that favored clarity, linearity and tonality. In photographing his onetime muse Anita Brenner in 1925, Weston remarked, 'Yesterday I "created" the finest series of nudes I have ever done, and in no exalted state of mind… And then appeared to me the most exquisite lines, forms, volumes—and I accepted,--working easily, rapidly, surely.' The images were noted for their formalist qualities, highlighting outline, volume and contours, qualities that Weston implemented in the current lot depicting Bertha Wardell, albeit in a manner that is softer and more nuanced.
A leading figure in the modern dance circles of Carmel and Los Angeles, Wardell first met Weston in 1922. However, it was not until his return from Mexico at the end of 1926 that the two began collaborating on the series of celebrated nudes. Wardell had seen an exhibition of his photographs at the University of California in Los Angeles and volunteered to model. In his images, Weston redacted Wardell’s nimble and sinuous body into studies of undulating flesh and muscles. 'Her beauty in movement is an exquisite sight,' Weston later noted about the sessions, which lasted a total of three months and stretched over fifty negatives. In the current lot, the deliberate cropping of the legs in conjunction with the chiaroscuro lighting lends the image a deeply sculptural if organic feel. The legs occupy the frame nearly in its entirety, presenting an image that is less about the human form but rather its ability to transition into a biomorphic object. 'I saw the repeated curve of thigh and calf,' Weston recounted, 'the shin bone, knee and thigh lines forming shapes not unlike great sea shells—the calf curved across the upper leg, the shell’s opening.' By fragmenting Wardell’s lower body, Weston successfully transitioned the human form into a nautical still life of pure Modernist beauty.
The matte surface of the print attests to an early printing date, which highlights its rarity. The strong, early signature on the handsomely-sized buff-colored mount further reinforce Weston’s confidence in this specific print. This is the first mounted matte-surface example of this image to come up for auction since 1997.
Other prints of this image are in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Lane Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Sir Elton John Collection.