Yosemite is one of the great gestures of the Earth… a beauty that is as solid and apparent as the granite rock in which it is carved.
—Ansel Adams to Alfred Stieglitz, 1937
In the 1890s author Susie Clark described her first glimpse of New Inspiration Point along the rim of Yosemite Valley and poignantly chronicled a vision that silences most viewers: ‘… we realized with a gasp that was almost pain, that we were looking upon the marvelous Valley. We stood on Inspiration Point… There are some moments, some experiences that come to us which are untranslatable in any human speech, and this was one…’ (Clark, The Round Trip, Lee and Shepard, 1890, pp. 128-129).
Approximately forty years later Ansel Adams stood at the same Yosemite Valley overlook, which the artist himself described as ‘one of the most wonderful viewpoints in the whole world.' Taken around noon on a December day, Adams waited for a snowstorm to clear so he could capture what would become one of his most iconic compositions (Adams, ‘Yosemite’, Travel and Camera Magazine, October 1946). The vantage point was difficult to navigate but optimal, the weather and light ideal for making a ‘fairly strong’ negative, which Adams considered the canvas on which he burned and dodged his final creation (Stillman, Looking at Ansel Adams: The Photographs and the Man, p. 105) (fig. 1).
It is no surprise that Adams, with a lifelong affinity for classical music, astronomy and a deep philosophical drive, was capable of imbuing his prints with a sense of existential realism that went far beyond documentation. As a young man Adams admired Beethoven and his ability to convey ‘a world of thought of the loftiest nature’ bringing the listener ‘so much closer to an understanding of the Great Mystery’ (Hammond, Ansel Adams: Divine Performance, Yale University Press, 2002, p. 4). This is arguably what Adams achieved for his viewers. With superlative technical skill and the intellectual rigor necessary to evoke such raw emotion from a photograph, he successfully crafted experiences. One does not simply observe an Adams print—one senses it instinctively. He was awed equally by the capability of his artistic medium and the spiritual potential of the landscape—and he managed somehow, wondrously, to fuse the two on a sheet of photographic paper.
The present lot represents one of Ansel’s largest mural prints, most notable for the precise detail that the artist was able to capture in his meticulous printing, even when enlarging an 8 x 10 inch negative to this extraordinary size. While Adams was cautious about print sizes, he believed a larger format was essential for this extraordinary vista: ‘The Yosemite storm is an old negative… From one point of view it should not be as large, but I think size is necessary from the point of view of majesty and dramatic force’ (Alinder & Stillman, eds., Ansel Adams Letters and Images 1916-1984, Bullfinch Press, 1988, p. 273).
This print was one of approximately two hundred commissioned by a California-based organization from 1969-1975. Upon relocating, representatives from the company decided to cover their new walls with California scenes. Thus began a six year collaboration during which time Ansel advised on wall color, frames, curation and print choice. Ansel was, at this time, accepting corporate commissions and many of his mural prints on the market today were created in this context. As was common, the present lot is unsigned and flush-mounted to a thick board for exhibition purposes.
A peerless figure in the history of photography, Ansel’s timeless image of New Inspiration Point is alive, impossibly evocative and eternally breathtaking.