Portrait of Imogen Cunningham, 1956 inscribed 'Imogen Cunningham' (upper left) and dated '1956' (upper right) oil on canvas on board 15 3/4 x 12in. (40 x 30.5cm)
PROVENANCE Imogen Cunningham and Roi George Partridge, San Francisco By descent from the above to the previous owners Private Collection, San Francisco (acquired from the above)
LITERATURE H. Park Bigelow, David Park, Painter: Nothing Held Back, Manchester, 2009, no. 55 (illustrated in color p. 93)
'Be Imogen, and remember, ideas are always without an end.' -Shen Yao (R. Lorenz, Imogen Cunningham: Ideas without End, San Francisco, 1993, p. 9)
Imogen Cunningham, a beloved American photographer, had a prolific career that spanned seven decades. In 1917, at the age of thirty-four, Cunningham relocated to the Bay Area with her family and shortly fell into artistic circles with artists such as Maynard Dixon, Dorothea Lange and Edward Weston. In the 1950s, Cunningham's work with portraiture evolved and matured, allowing her to capture, display and reveal the essence of her sitter which became her trademark style. As Lorenz observes, 'In the most penetrating of these portraits, disclosure of the subject is both physical and emotional...'(R. Lorenz, op.cit., p. 48). Many of the 20th century's most celebrated artists, such as Morris Graves and David Park, were sitters for these intimate and honest portraits.
Like Cunningham, David Park moved in artistic circles, keeping company with his contemporaries Elmer Bischoff and Richard Diebenkorn. Park and Cunningham happened to meet while teaching at the California School of Fine Arts, thus creating an artistic bond that would facilitate a series of portraits later in their lives. Park painted the work, Portrait of Imogen Cunningham, in 1956, and in 1958 Cunningham took multiple photographs of Park, some in his studio grappling with a work, or some more posed shots in trees or against a stark back drop. Each artist, with their masterful skill and attention to detail, captured notable qualities in their portraits. The eldest granddaughter of Cunningham, Loren Partridge, commented on this portrait by Park, 'I always liked the sort of bold, brusque quality of the portrait; characteristics which truly portrayed Imogen's strong personality'. Park, with the framing of Cunningham's eyes, was able to suggest 'her powers of observation as a photographer and her clear-eyed approach to the world around her' (N. Boas, David Park: A Painter's Life, Berkeley, 2012, p. 206). This portrait is a brilliant example of Park's mastery of the human form and the lush, painterly style for which he is celebrated. The richness of paint is conveyed through the subtle tonality and texture of his brush strokes, a quality exhibited in his finest works, and simultaneously represents his subject true to form.
Cunningham must have been pleased with the portrait, as she displayed it in her home on Green Street in San Francisco, hanging on the wall amongst her own extraordinary photographs. Later in her life, Cunningham gifted the work to her eldest son, and the work remained in the Partridge family as a cherished memory of the pioneering, witty, female photographer.