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Episode 37: Ansel Adams Auction Results

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An antique lens serving as the icon for Keith Dotson's fine art photography podcast.

Super-collector David H. Arrington sells more than 100 Ansel Adams photographs at auction

Photography enthusiasts and collectors can learn a lot about photography (as well as the art and business of photography) from watching auctions. For example, the dedicated auction pages for the recent Sotheby’s auction called A Grand Vision: The David H. Arrington Collection of Ansel Adams Masterworks contains a wealth of information about each print. There’s much more to learn than simply auction prices.

The page contains a video interview of the collector, Arrington, and each image offered for auction includes condition reports, sizes, provenance, and pictures of the photographs shown in a frame, and mocked-up on a wall for scale. 

Full transcript

Podcast Episode 37: Ansel Adams Auction Results

In this episode, auction results from the David H. Arrington collection of amazing Ansel Adams photographs for $6.4 million

Hey everybody, welcome back to the fine art photography podcast. Keith Dotson here and in this episode, I want to talk about the recent Sotheby’s auction of black and white landscape photographs by the legendary Ansel Adams.

On December 14, 2020, Sothebys Auction House in New York held a live auction, socially distanced and crowd-size limited according to New York Covid requirements.

They were auctioning the large collection of Ansel Adams landscapes that had been collected by Texas oil exec David H. Arrington, President of Arrington Oil & Gas Operating LLC. Or as Sothebys said — they were auctioning Adams’ quote / unquote masterworks.

Before we talk about the photographs, let’s find out about Arrington. If you Google him, you’ll readily find pictures of him standing amidst a gallery of incredible large, framed prints by Ansel Adams. Clearly the guy is passionate about the work of Ansel Adams. A 2014 article in his hometown newspaper the Midland (Texas) Reporter Telegram called Arrington the largest private collector of Adams photographs, with over 600 prints at that time.

The article called Arrington a “photographer trapped in an oilman’s body.” Arrington said he never intended to become the owner of the world’s largest private collection of Ansel Adams photographs, but said he’s a typical Texan who overdoes everything.

As an oilman, Arrington said he relates to the Adams technique of pre-visualization, which applies to his own work, which involves risk-taking and exploration.

So, why would such a big fan, with the resources to buy and house a large and expensive collection, decide to let go of more than 100 pieces?

Arrington displays many of the Adams landscapes in his Midland headquarters, but he said a large portion are simply sitting in storage, so he thought maybe it was time to let some of them go.

Arrington, himself an amateur photographer, has also collected other of Adams items and possessions — such as darkroom notes and things like that — from the family, and insists that he will continue to buy more prints of Adams photographs. 

In a recent article in the Midland newspaper, Arrington said that he was selling one of the earliest prints of “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” ever to go to auction, printed by Adams himself in 1941 or early 1942. This is a version where the sky is more gray than black, as it was in later renditions.

Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” went for $685,500 at auction, as did “Half Dome, Merced River, Winter, Yosemite Valley.”

But the largest price went for “The Grand Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming” which sold for $988,000.

By the way, I’ll include a link in the description and on my blog, to the Sotheby’s auction page, where you can see each photograph auctioned, along with details like provenance and sizes, etc. There’s also a short interview with Arrington — in bolo tie and western boots — where he discusses his passion for the photos of Ansel Adams — link in description.

The auction featured 123 prints, of which 115 were sold, many above estimate. Some of the prints are quite large. The print of “Half Dome, Merced River, Winter, Yosemite Valley” is 30 3/4 inches by 39 5/8 inches or 78.1 by 100.6 cm.

Yosemite Valley From Inspiration Point, Winter, Yosemite National Park,” is even larger at 82 1/2 by 118 3/4-inches or 209.55 by 301.6 cm.

Others are very small — a beautiful print of “Latch And Chain, Mineral King, California,” which sold for $17,640, is only 9-inches by 6 5/8-inches.

A 1960 Polaroid print called “Picket Fence” sold for about $3,000. It’s 4 1/2 by 3 1/2 inches or 11.4 by 8.9 cm.

I encourage you to visit the Sotheby’s site and look at every photograph listed on the page. There’s very early work, lesser known work, and it’s not all from the western states. I saw a few taken in Charleston, South Carolina, which about as far away from Yosemite as you can get and still be in the United States.

And as I said, there are detailed condition reports and provenance for each piece.

That’s all I’ve got for this episode — thanks for listening! I’ll talk to you again real soon.

Sources and Links

Midland Reporter Telegram, “Midland oilman proudly displays nature photography

Midland Reporter Telegram, “Midland oilman to auction off part of his Ansel Adams collection

Petapixel, “Iconic Ansel Adams Photo Sells for Record-Setting $988,000

Sothebys, “A Grand Vision: The David H. Arrington Collection of Ansel Adams Masterworks” (Video interview with Arrington)

Sothebys, Lot Listings

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Keith Dotson

Keith Dotson is a professional fine art photographer who specializes in black and white landscapes, cityscapes, and abstractions from nature.

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