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DOROTHEA LANGE (1895–1965)
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936
gelatin silver print, flush-mounted on photographic paper, printed before c. 1960
signed and dated in ink (recto); accompanied by a letter of provenance
image/sheet/flush mount: 13 1/8 x 10 1/8 in. (33.3 x 25.7 cm.)
Provenance
Gifted by the artist to Ken Heyman, former owner of Photograph Gallery, New York, 1965;
acquired from the above by Light Gallery, New York, 1974-1975;
acquired from the above by a private collector;
acquired form the above by Light Gallery, New York, 1978-1979;
acquired from the above by Photofind Gallery, New York, 1984;
acquired from the above by the present owner, 1985.
Literature
George P. Elliot, Dorothea Lange, Doubleday/The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1966, p. 25.
Milton Meltzer, Dorothea Lange: A Photographer's Life, Farrar Straus Giroux, New York, 1978, p. 213.
Robert Coles, Dorothea Lange: Photographs of a Lifetime, Aperture, New York, 1982, n.p.
Elizabeth Partridge (ed.), Dorothea Lange: A Visual Life, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 1994, ill. 6.16., p. 108.
Sandra S. Phillips et al., Dorothea Lange: American Photographs, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art/Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1994, pl. 43.
Keith F. Davis, The Photographs of Dorothea Lange, Hallmark Cards, Inc./Harry N. Abrams, Kansas City, Missouri, 1995, p. 45.
Exhibited
Ithaca, New York, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, An American Portrait: Photographs from the Collection of Diann and Thomas Mann, April 1–June 12, 1994, no. 22.

Lot Essay

I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence of my camera to her but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was 32. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she was in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.

The pea crop at Nipomo had frozen and there was no work for anybody. But I did not approach the tents and shelters of other stranded pea-pickers. It was not necessary; I knew I had recorded the essence of my assignment.

–Dorothea Lange

The present lot is a signed and flush-mounted print of one of the most compelling portraits of America during the Great Depression. The story of Lange returning to the site where this photograph was taken, after initially driving past it, is a well known part of the important history of Farm Security Administration (FSA) photography. All along the image's passage through American visual culture over the past eighty years, it has maintained--without diminishment--the same level of heightened empathy that it evoked when first publicly received in 1936.

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