In this blog, we note a visit by Ansel Adams to the village of Blawenburg and the picture he took while he was here.
Ansel Adams c1950. Note the film camera and manual light meter.
Ansel Adams is perhaps the most famous photographer of the 20th century. His black and white photographs of the national parks of the United States are admired worldwide for their clarity and depth. He was a vigorous advocate of what he called “pure” photography that brought his pictures into sharp focus by using a broad range of tones.
Adams was born in San Francisco in 1902, and lived there in his early years. He developed a love of nature at a young age, getting his first camera at age 12 on a trip to Yosemite National Park in California. Ansel joined the Sierra Club as a teen, and before he was 20, the die was cast. He would make the environment the main platform for his photography, which reflected his deep love of the natural world and its need for conservation. Most of his pictures are of environmental scenes, especially in the West.
Ansel Adams, 1941. Grassy valley, tree covered mountain side and snow-covered peaks, "Grand Teton National Park", Wyoming.
A Visit to Blawenburg
His travels took Adams throughout the United States, and in 1939, while traveling in New Jersey, he stopped in Blawenburg. It isn’t clear why he was traveling along Route 518, but there is clear evidence of his visit. He saw the iconic Blawenburg Reformed Church and took a picture of its western door, naming it doorway, blawenburg, new jersey (sic). The picture isn’t very big, measuring just 6.5 by 4 inches. Perhaps he was attracted to the shadows of the trees breaking up the morning light on the door, or maybe it was the Georgian architecture that drew his attention. Many pictures of the church have been taken over the years, especially since the advent of digital photography, but none have achieved the notoriety and value of Adams’s picture of the doorway of Blawenburg.
doorway, blawenburg, new jersey
In its last auction in 2007, the Sotheby’s catalog contained this description of the doorway photo. The picture is “mounted to card, signed by the photographer in pencil, his Ansel Adams, Box 455, Yosemite National Park, California' stamp (BMFA 3) and printing notations in red and blue ink on the mount, his letterpress San Francisco studio label (BMFA 4), with typed title and date, on the reverse, matted, 1939.”
Several private collectors have owned the doorway picture, and it has been sold three times at auction. According to Sotheby’s, its provenance includes:
Private Collection, New York
Richard T. Rosenthal, Philadelphia
Sotheby’s New York, 10 November 1986, Sale 5510, Lot 17
Private Collection, Colorado
Sotheby's New York, 23 April 1994, Sale 6551, Lot 155
Private Collection, Margaret W. Weston
Sotheby’s New York, 25 April 2007, Lot 50
In the auction of 1994, the picture was purchased by Margaret W. Weston, a private collector who started one of the first commercial galleries devoted to photography in the United States. She began with a collection of prints and originals photographed by Edward Weston, her father-in-law, and expanded it to other well-known photographers, including Ansel Adams.
During the time that she owned the Blawenburg picture, Weston included it in three shows:
Center for Photographic Art, Carmel, Ansel Adams: From the Private Collection of Margaret Weston, July - September 1995
San Francisco, The Friends of Photography, Ansel Adams: From the Private Collection of Maggi Weston, May - September 1996
Monterey Museum of Art, Passion and Precision: Photographs from the Collection of Margaret W. Weston, January - April 2003
In 2007, Weston decided to sell the bulk of her valuable photography collection in a Sotheby’s auction. On April 25, 2007, the doorway picture went up for auction as “Lot 50 of the private collection of Margaret W. Weston.” A note in the catalog said, “The image offered here was included in Adams's 1950 book, The Print--Contact Printing and Enlarging, Basic Photo 3, with the title, Colonial Doorway, New Jersey, as an example of a problem of luminous whites and shadows. Blawenburg, New Jersey, is near Princeton, home of David McAlpin.” Sotheby’s recognized McAlpin in this note because he also auctioned items through Sotheby’s.
Apparently, the auction drew many interested buyers, because it netted $7.8 million. Several lots by Edward Weston sold for several hundred thousand dollars, while Adams’s photos ranged from a few hundred dollars to $70,000.
It was anticipated that doorway, blawenburg, new jersey would sell between $15,000 and $25,000, and the estimate was on target. The actual sale price was $24,000. Not a bad price for a postcard-size picture!
1. You can see many of Adams’s photographs at The Ansel Adams Gallery.
3. Sotheby’s protects the privacy of clients, so we don’t know who currently owns the doorway, blawenburg, new jersey photo or where it is.
3. Adams died in 1984, and his ashes were placed on the summit of Mount Ansel Adams in California's Ansel Adams Wilderness area, a fitting tribute to an outstanding photographer and naturalist.
Thanks to Bernice Van Nostrand for sharing Historic Churches of Somerset County, New Jersey with me. Its brief reference to Ansel Adams triggered this blog.
Greenagel, Frank L. Historic Churches of Somerset County, New Jersey. Cheltenham, U.K., The History Press, 2006.
Grand Tetons - U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, From the series Ansel Adams Photographs of National Parks and Monuments, compiled 1941 - 1942, documenting the period ca. 1933 - 1942.
doorway, blawenburg, new jersey - https://www.invaluable.com/auction-lot/ansel-adams-1902-1984-doorway-blawenburg-new-jers-50-c-okeqdbl72p#
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