The first few decades of the 20th century were a fruitful period of artistic production for the still-fledgling art of photography. In New York City, just after the turn of the century, a small circle of photographic visionaries revolved around the magnetic figure of Alfred Stieglitz, whose influence as artist, patron and gallerist galvanised the tight-knit community. Stieglitz was absolutely central to both the Photo-Secession, an early-1900s movement that was known for works in the style of Pictorialism, as well as the development of photographic art along modernist lines.
Stieglitz was immensely influential in establishing and tirelessly promoting photography as an art form in the United States. He edited and published magazines, promoted photographers through exhibitions at his galleries, and produced his own rich body of creative photographic work. The photogravure printing process was his well-known favoured method, and he promoted the technique as an original means of photographic printmaking.
On 4 and 5 October, key works by Steiglitz will be offered at Christie’s in New York in a dedicated sale, An American Journey: The Diann G. and Thomas A. Mann Collection of Photographic Masterworks. The Mann Collection contains his most iconic works from the Photo-Secessionist period, printed as oversized photogravures; each example is signed and mounted.
Included in the sale are prints of The Terminal (1892), The Hand of Man (1902), and the artists’ own print of The Steerage (1907). Perhaps Steiglitz’s most frequently reproduced photograph, The Steerage was exhibited in both the 1917 Society of Independent Artists’ show in New York and the 1944 Philadelphia Museum of Art exhibition that surveyed his work and personal collection.
These key prints come to auction alongside rare examples of works by Steiglitz’s counterparts in the Photo-Secession, including Edward Steichen, Gertrude Käsebier and Clarence White, and Modernist masterworks by Edward Weston, Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler.
The Mann collection also features key works by socially conscious photographers who documented America during the Great Depression era: Dorothea Lange, Margaret Bourke-White, Arthur Rothstein and Walker Evans. Also notable are two outstanding 19th-century prints, one by Carleton Watkins of El Capitan, Yosemite, 1878-1881, and a fine example of White House Ruins in Canyon de Chelley by Timothy O’Sullivan, from 1873.
The collection of Diann and Thomas Mann is one of the most significant collections of masterworks of American photography in private hands. With an emphasis on Pictorialism, the birth and explosive growth of Modernism and the critical transition between the two, the collection is a study of the depth and breadth of the artistic vision of many of the most significant photographers of the 20th century. All told, it forms a comprehensive visual record of a rich period of production before the First World War, through the explosive and radical period between the two great wars, and into the heady post-war period.
The earliest acquisitions in the Mann collection are from the 1970s, a time when no more than a handful of photography dealers existed and photography itself was not seen as a valuable investment. Enthralled with the camera from an early age, Thomas Mann educated himself in the history of the medium.
He moved quickly from collecting monographs on his favourite photographers to the realisation that early prints of historical works were not only readily available, but relatively inexpensive. In many cases, the Manns gravitated to prints that stand out not just for their iconic imagery, but also for their signatures, annotations, pristine condition and distinguished provenance.
The curiosity of Thomas and Diann Mann, coupled with their willingness to acquire, was prescient — especially as the availability of superb early examples became increasingly rare. Indeed, so rare are the masterworks in this collection that it would be nearly impossible to recreate it today. The sale of the Mann Collection is a landmark event, offering new and veteran collectors alike the opportunity to acquire some of the most important images in the history of the medium.