PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTOR
'Cunningham's concern for purity of image and clarity of detail became increasingly important during the 1920s and were first noticeable in her treatment of flora specimens she gathered from her backyard and neighborhood. Perhaps the publication of two classic masterpieces of floral still life recently in Vanity Fair could have validated her decision to explore botanical subjects in depth. Charles Sheeler's dignified tabletop arrangement, Zinnia and Nasturtium Leaves was reproduced in May 1920; and Lotus, Mount Kisco, New York, Edward Steichen's study of an ethereally lit flower suspended in mysterious space, was printed in July 1923. [Fig. 1]
During 1923-25, Cunningham made an extended series of magnolia flower studies which became increasingly simplified as she sought to recognize the form within the object. The results are best represented by the well-known Magnolia Blossom and its counterpart, a detail of the magnolia's core, Tower of Jewels. Cunningham's botanical interests were supported by the Dutch photographer, Johan Hagemeyer, who had been a professional horticulturalist. Hagemeyer created a limited body of floral still lifes in the 1920s including a moody study of an erotic, chalice-like lily.' [Fig. 2] (Lorenz: Imogen Cunningham: Ideas Without End, Chronicle Books, pp. 26-27). Hagemeyer's own, smaller print of the Magnolia Blossom, given to him by Cunningham, was sold at Christie's on April 24, 2006, lot 31.
Vintage, enlargement prints of the Magnolia Blossom, such as lot 319, are extremely rare. Cunningham customarily contact-printed her works from 8 x 10in. or 5 x 7in. negatives. This print is 9 x 11 3/8in. and, as such, may have been created for exhibition.
Before her death in 1976, at the age of 93, Imogen gave a selection of her photographs to each of her three sons, Gryffyd, Rondal and Padraic. Padraic received this luminous Magnolia Blossom as part of his gift. When the print was sold by his widow in 2004, the broker for the sale, John Stevenson, contacted Padraic's twin brother, Rondal, to ask whether he could help substantiate the early dating of the print. Rondall recalled that, as a child, he had helped his mother with her photography and worked on lighting the Magnolia Blossom. In the lab a short time later, Imogen splashed the Magnolia plate with chemical fluid. Subsequent prints, therefore, bore a small flaw in the lower right petal which had to be retouched. This print does not appear to have any traces of retouching and so, presumably, predates Cunningham's mishap.