Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952); Self Portrait in Field Attire;

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Lot 1
Edward S. Curtis
Self Portrait in Field Attire

Sold for US$ 6,375 inc. premium
Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952)
Self Portrait in Field Attire, c. 1899
Small-format photogravure on vellum, John Andrew & Son imprint in the margin.
10 x 7in (25.4 x 17.8cm)
sheet 14 x 11in (35.5 x 28cm); period frame


  • Literature
    Edward S. Curtis: The North American Indian, the Complete Portfolios, Taschen, 1997, p. 7
    Cardozo, Edward Curtis: One Hundred Masterworks, Delmonico Books/ Prestel, 2015, p. 9

    The great changes in practically every phase of the Indian's life that have taken place, especially within recent years, have been such that the time for collecting much of the material, both descriptive and illustrative, herein recorded, been delayed, it would have been lost forever. The passing of every old man means the passing of some tradition, some knowledge of sacred rites possessed by no other; consequently the information that is to be gathered for the benefit of future generations, respecting the mode of life of one of the great races of mankind, must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost for all time.

    Edward Curtis is best remembered today for his monumental 20-volume set of The North American Indian, produced over three decades at enormous financial and personal cost, and the sale includes some wonderful examples from this masterpiece - both in orotone and on paper - as well as offering a cornucopia of other rare gems.

    Lots 2-55 are devoted to Curtis's orotones (also known as "goldtones" and "Curt-tones"), glass positives backed with bronzing powders, a process Curtis pioneered and made commercially successful. In addition to the gilded appearance of these images, these delicate orotones are also always protected by their stylish arts and crafts-style frames, these, according to a Curtis Studio brochure, "exclusively designed and toned to harmonize" with his romantic pictorialist style. The selection not only includes the largest orotone produced of Vanishing Race (lot 3), but even includes miniature orotones of some of his signature work, these possibly used as sale samples (lots 51 and 52.) A small number of fine orotones by other gifted practitioners, such Curtis' younger brother Asahel, Arthur Pillsbury and Walter Keith, are also represented in the collection (lots 106, 109, 111 and 116.)

    Edward's exquisitely produced paper prints – from both The North American Indian and from other contemporary projects (for example his work for the DeMille studios, undertaken to help fund The North American Indian,) as well later endeavors - are also represented here (lots 57–100.)

    These paper prints are principally in gelatin silver (with one or two possible examples in platinum, subject to closer scrutiny.) Curtis usually printed on matte, textured paper and toned them so that they all have a warm and painterly quality. The selection also includes a few gelatin silver border prints, exclusive to Curtis and noted for their gray borders around the image (lots 68-69 and 78.)

    The sale provides a rare and fascinating glimpse into Curtis's preliminary printing process for The North American Indian. While in the field, the photographer often made "non-darkroom" prints using the quick and inexpensive cyanotype process to see how successful his day's negatives had been. Historically, these "blue-prints" (literally) were not considered valuable and were discarded. Those that remain are prized for their delicacy and immediacy, much as preliminary sketches are for major paintings (lots 129-131.)

    Other exceptional works on paper and ephemera in this extraordinary auction include family snapshots, notebooks, scrapbooks, playbills and unique posters for Curtis's ambitious, if ill-fated, movies such as In the Land of the Headhunters. (lots 139-146.) It even offers a wooden Curtis Studio sign which was on display at the Biltmore Hotel (lot 151).

    This exceptional and extensive collection, amassed over several decades by its devoted current owner, is a veritable treasure trove for devotees of Edward Curtis and Bonhams is deeply honored to be entrusted with its sale.
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