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Lot 1003: Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras

Photographs By Ansel Adams From A California Collection

by Christie's

April 11, 2008

New York, NY, USA

Ansel Adams (1902-1984) Please Register/Login to access your Invaluable Alerts

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Description: ANSEL ADAMS (1902-1984)
Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras
San Francisco: Grabhorn Press, 1927. 18 gelatin silver prints; the majority signed 'A.E. Adams' in pencil (in the margin); each approximately 6 x 8in. (15.2 x 20.4cm.) or the reverse; each with paper wrapper with printed title; accompanied by a facsimile folding portfolio case

Notes: 'By keeping to a simple and rather austere style, his prints assume a dignity and beauty which is not generally conveyed by photography' (Joseph N. Le Conte, Sierra Club, Bulletin , 1927)

During the 1920s, as a member of the Sierra Club, Ansel Adams, an accomplished pianist, mountaineer and fledgling photographer, joined the Club's annual midsummer outings to the Sierra - month-long camping trips - as well as making several trips on his own. The intensity of light, vitality and grandeur of the landscape all helped shape Adams' mature photographic style and technique, characterized by the incomparable clarity and vigor of his prints.
Adams took photographs of many regions of the High Sierra - in King's River Canyon; Pate Valley, with its Indian pictographs; Muir Gorge, the pinnacles at the headwaters of King's River, Mount Brewer, The Black Kaweah, Mount Ritter, the Minarets, the area around South Fork of the San Joaquin and Evolution Valley. The best known of the portfolio group is Adams' first masterpiece, Monolith, the Face of Half-Dome, Yosemite .
The portfolio was championed by Albert Bender (to whom Adams later dedicated Portfolio Two , see lot 1050), an insurance broker and philanthropist with a deep commitment to San Francisco's world of arts and letters. Bender admired Adams' work and proposed that he produce one hundred portfolios of eighteen prints, each to sell for fifty dollars. On the morning that the project was born, Bender bought ten portfolios in advance and handed Adams a check for five hundred dollars. While Adams sat 'electrified', Bender sold by phone more than half the edition, even before all of the negatives had been made.
The portfolio was called - at the insistence of the publisher, Grabhorn Press, Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras . The term 'Parmelian' was a synthetic and meaningless word, made up of bits and pieces of other, 'grander' words, such as 'Parthenon' 'Parnassus' 'amelioration' and 'Pelias and Melisand'. The pretentious title was intended to emphasize the fact that these were not mere photographic prints - a mild embarrassment to Adams for the rest of his life, but perhaps not so embarrassing as the unwonted 's' on the end of 'Sierra'. An entire set is rarely offered at auction.


The proposed edition was 150, (some with signed, others with unsigned prints), never completed. A number were destroyed in a fire in 1937; only about 75 sets are believed to have survived. This lot is accompanied by an exquisite facsimile case, produced specifically for the company by Graphics International in 1979. Interestingly, the cover is titled correctly 'The High Sierra'; the terms 'Parmelian Prints' and 'High Sierras', so abhorred by Adams, have been removed.

Artist or Maker: ANSEL ADAMS (1902-1984)

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