Many artists have explored visual fragmentation of the human form, especially the female body. Surrealists, in particular, lingered on the fractured feminine: from Magritte’s disembodied breasts to Hans Belmer’s twisted dolls. Imogen Cunningham, a luminary of modern photography, also explored such fragmentation, with an aim to create more elegant and subtle transformations than many of her male contemporaries.
The image in the present lot, Two Sisters, remains very figurative and its two subjects’ bodies unmistakably feminine in their repose. Simultaneously, the women appear monumental, strong and autonomous. Their faces cropped by the lens, the figures lack identity, and the composition becomes a dialogue between their forms. The arched back of the left-facing figure casts a shadows that gracefully curves around the hip of her languid partner. Cunningham explores the naturally occurring geometries of the real, using the female figure, exposed and unadorned, as her sinuous canvas. Cunningham's interest in highlighting the triangle shape in her nude compositions began in the 1920s, perhaps culminating in this sitting (see also Lot 139) with her friends, artists Helen and Jackie Greaves.
Cunningham caused a stir early on in her career, when, as early as 1910, she began photographing nudes, often males, in provocative poses. Controversial, too, were her early nude self-portraits, which further helped establish the young artist as unafraid to challenge traditional notions of femininity in an era still at the heels of the restrictive Victorian culture. By the 1920s, when the present image was taken, the shift in photography to Modernism was evident. West Coast contemporaries of Cunningham, perhaps most notably Edward Weston, were also creating Modern compositions that emphasized light and shape using fragmented, nude bodies.
Articulating some of these trends in photography, Franz Roh wrote the following in the publication accompanying the seminal exhibition Film und Foto presented in Stuttgart, Germany in 1929, for which Cunningham contributed ten works: 'If in the graphic arts there are a thousand forms of recasting and reducing the exterior world, there are a hundred possibilities of focus, section and lighting in photography...'
The present lot is an early print of an image that very rarely appears at auction. Over the past twenty-years Two Sisters has appeared at auction only twice. The letter from the artist's son that accompanies this work describes the print as 'one of the earliest,' adding to the scarcity and exceptional nature of this work.