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Art of Collecting: A Pacific Island Connoisseur of Art and Design

Nude in Bath, c. 1936

Nude in Bath, c. 1936
carbro print, mounted on board
credited and titled in marker (frame backing)
image:16 7/8 x 12 1/8 in. (42.8 x 30.7 cm.)
sheet: 18 1/4 x 14 in. (46.3 x 35.5 cm.)
mount: 19 x 14 in. (48.2 x 35.5 cm.)
Robert Miller Gallery, New York;
acquired from the above by a private collector, 1980s;
Sotheby's, New York, October 3, 2012, lot 163;
acquired from the above by the present owner.
Paul Outerbridge, Paul Outerbridge: A Singular Aesthetic Photographs and Drawings, 1921-1949 : A Catalogue Raisonne, Arabesque, Santa Barbara, 1981, pl. 71, p. 121.
Elaine Dines-Cox and Carol McCusker, Paul Outerbridge 1896-1958, Taschen, Cologne, 1999, p. 164 (variant).

Lot Essay

“[…] the only man working in color photography who subscribes wholly to the art-axis.” - Robert W. Marks “Portrait of Paul Outerbridge” Coronet, 7 No. 5 (March 1940) 18.

A pioneer of color photography, Paul Outerbridge successfully merged the worlds of 20th century fine art, photography and commercial imagery. After spending 15 months serving during WWI, and a short stint working in Hollywood, he began to seriously pursue photography in 1921, attending the Clarence White School of Photography in New York. His work was immediately admired by magazines and artist alike, his delicately composed Kitchen Table from 1921 was published in Vanity Fair in 1922, and renowned innovative artist Marcel Duchamp is said to have pinned an image of Outerbridge’s 1922 Ide Collar to his studio wall, extolling it as an “example of the perfect readymade.” (Pual Outerbridge and Jo Ann Callis, Susan Morgan, Aperture, Winter 2009, No. 197 pp. 12-13) More success followed swiftly and he had his first solo show in 1924 at the Art Center, New York.

Moving to Paris with his wife in 1925, Outerbridge continued developing his visual language by taking cues from the avant-garde Parisian community of the 1920s. Associating and building friendships with the likes of Man Ray, Pablo Picasso, Francis Picabia and Max Ernst, informed his artistic practice. Evident in his work of this period is the combined precisionism of Paul Strand balanced with the surrealist sensibilities of Man Ray. Spending his last two years in Europe in Berlin, Outerbridge’s vision was further tempered by the purity and simplicity characterized by the post-war New Objectivity.

It was all of these elements that coalesced into the work Outerbridge is renowned for - his stunningly vibrant color photography. It was the carbro process that became the object of his attention in 1930. He pursued the process with intensity and perfected it like no other photographer since. The process reinvigorated his passion for photography and unlike his contemporaries who used the color process for solely commercial means, Outerbridge elevated it to a fine art.

The carbro process (carbro stemming from a combining carbon and bromide) is an incredibly labor-intensive procedure, To create a carbro print three black and white separation negatives are each photographed with a different color filter, cyan, magenta and yellow. From these three silver bromide prints, or carbon tissues, are created. These prints, or tissues, comprised of cyan, magenta and yellow pigmented gelatin are then sensitized and exposed by squeegeeing in direct contact with a corresponding print made from one of the separation negatives. This was followed by transferring the tissues, multiple times, to temporary supports and finally precisely registering the cyan, magenta and yellow tissue together to produce a complete color image.

What is particularly special about the work offered here, Nude in Bath, circa 1936 is its evidence of the artist’s hand, working painstakingly to achieve a masterful print with such a complex system. The fuzzy misregistration at the bottom right image corner attest to the rigorous precision needed in the layering step. The peeking blue and yellow spots below the model’s belly button and upper right thigh and the yellow and green glow below here right ear-all give a sense of a print in the making. It is rare for a print to contain such a record of the artist’s process and simultaneously adds to the alluring appeal of the image. A defining characteristic of the carbro print is its vibrancy and color stability. This print, created almost eighty years ago, rivals the freshness and vitality of a contemporary work. Observing the model’s bold radiant lip, the rich powdery blue cloth, and subtle pink variations of her skin, one cannot help but echo the sentiment expressed by a fellow photographer gazing upon Outerbridge’s work exhibited at the 1937 U.S. Camera Salon:

“[…] the Outerbridge nudes possessed flesh tones such as never before have been seen in color photography…. […] He somehow successfully works out high pastel combinations which place him at the top of his craft.” - Observer at 1937 Camera Salon

Paul Outerbridge’s approach to the female nude is seductive with a combined artistic and commercial undertone. Yet his imagery also recalls antiquated approaches to feminine beauty. He confessed “[a] good nude… should embody a universal concept of feminine beauty” (Paul Outerbridge, Paul Outerbridge: A Singular Aesthetic Photographs and Drawings, 1921-1949: A Catalogue Raisonne, Arabesque, Santa Barbara, 1981, p.32). This arresting image of a slim nubile model, representative of ‘universal beauty’, brings this work into a relevant and contemporary dialogue around ideals of feminine beauty. This compelling theme, combined with Outberidges unrivaled artistry and craftsmanship in print making, make this work a rare treasure. Currently, this is the only known print of this image to exist, only one variant from the same sitting is known.

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