Scope of the Catalogue and Definition of the Thomas Walther Collection
The Thomas Walther Collection is the group of 341 photographs acquired by The Museum of Modern Art in 2001 from the collector Thomas Walther. The majority but not the entirety of Walther’s collection of modern photographs at the time, the pictures—most of them shot between 1909 and 1949—were chosen to complement those in the Museum Collection. This website presents research focused on the photographs in the Walther Collection, placing the works in relationship to the art and events of their era. The Museum Collection contains other photographs from this era and, in some cases, works in other mediums by these artists. The relationship of the Walther Collection pictures to the Museum Collection can be traced through the analyses of many of the scholars’ essays and, also, the link to other works by each artist at the close of the artists' pages.
In keeping with the Walther project’s emphasis on the physical properties and material histories of photographic prints, on the Photograph page for each work the object is imaged to show the full sheet of paper, including margins outside the picture image, as well as the original mount when present. Verso images are provided for every photograph, including later mounts in a few cases, where the photograph is affixed to a mount that is not contemporary to the print. On the Gallery page, each print is cropped to the picture image, as in the plates section of a printed book or a framed and matted print in an exhibition.
In the Photographs index and on the Gallery page, photographs are shown first alphabetically by the artists’ last names, studio names, or pen names, then chronologically by the date of the negative.
Priority has been given to the earliest known title published during the photographer’s lifetime, or, where no historical publication was available, to original inscribed titles. All titles are either given as they were first published in English or are translated into English followed by the original foreign-language titles. Many prints and reproductions from the same negative have different titles; in these cases, priority is given to the earliest. Subsequent exhibited and published titles through 1949 are annotated in the “Historical Exhibitions” and “Historical Publications” sections of each work’s Photograph page. Where no title was inscribed or is known to have been published, the descriptor “Untitled” has been given in place of nonhistorical descriptive titles.
The date of the creation of each photograph’s negative is given as closely as possible—when known, down to the exact day. More often the negative date has been narrowed to a single year or a span of several years. These have been determined based on any records available, ranging from the photographer’s own journals and notations to earliest-known exhibitions or publications. Some dates have been inferred based on what is known about a photographer’s travels to a particular place. For some photographers, for example Karl Blossfeldt and Franz Roh, very little record remains beyond a rough chronology of the years in which he or she was known to be actively photographing. For photographs whose negative date is a range of years, the median date has been used to plot the photograph in visualizations and chronologies. In captions for reproductions of Walther Collection photographs, negative date follows the artwork title, after a period.
Print Date Range
Print dates were determined based on two sets of data. First, technical analyses of the material components of the photographs were assessed: the paper support, image material, and binder or emulsion constituents. Paper-fiber analyses, X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, paper-thickness measurements, and examinations under ultraviolet illumination were performed. This data was then evaluated in concert with available publication and exhibition histories, provenance records, and marks and inscriptions on the print. The photographer’s biography was consulted to confirm the negative date and narrow the printing-date range whenever possible. The dates can be as precise as a single year or may span a wide range of years, depending on the documentation and technical data obtained. Print dates are delimited by the negative date and by such information as the date when papers with a particular material makeup began to be manufactured, or the date when the availability of certain kinds of paper changed. The print date 1955 appears often among the photographs, for example, because it is currently accepted that the presence of optical brightening agents was standardized after that date; ultraviolet illumination examination was employed to detect the presence or absence of these agents. When possible, analyses of these kinds were bolstered by archival evidence. In captions for reproductions of Walther Collection photographs, the print date follows the artwork’s medium, after a comma.
Medium was determined through visual examination and technical analysis using X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy to identify metallic elements, coatings, or binding mediums.
All works are measured in inches and centimeters. Dimensions are given for the image and, when they exist and vary, for sheet and mount as well. When the image, sheet, or mount is not an exact rectangle, dimensions are listed as irregular. The measurement of the diameter is given for circular works.
Place taken indicates the closest named location to the place the negative was created. When the negative date falls within a range, an approximation was made based on cities where the artist was active.
To clarify the view of the verso, it is listed whether each picture is mounted and, when known, whether the mount is original (contemporary to the date of the print) or a later addition.
Marks and Inscriptions
All stamped and handwritten marks and inscriptions on the works have been described in their original alphabets and shapes where possible and distinguished by the use of italics. When non-English marks and inscriptions shed light on the work’s creation or subsequent history beyond questions of reproduction, they are translated in footnotes to each entry.
The provenance of the works in the Walther Collection has been meticulously reconstructed. Many of these photographs passed through several hands (artists’ families and friends, newspapers, exhibitions) before moving to dealers and collectors and ultimately into the collection. Through much of the history of photography the ownership and exchange of a print has been (and for many images remains) a casual and rarely recorded event. Much of the information gathered here is therefore based not on records (as in more traditional art mediums) but on interviews with and memories of the many individuals involved in the histories of these objects. Dates are included whenever available, and we have made our best efforts to resolve internal contradictions. We hope that publishing this information, even when still partial, will bring forth further details, making the history of modern photography more complete.
Provenance is given according to Museum conventions. All information is given chronologically, starting with the photographer; then all known subsequent owners are listed. Individuals have been listed when known, along with their locations and dates of ownership. Semicolons are used to indicate a direct transfer from one owner to the next, with precise means of transfer (sale, gift, inheritance) described where known. Periods are used after an owner to indicate a gap in our knowledge.
Surface and Paper Material
The physical properties of the paper on which each photograph is printed—including its surface sheen, the presence or absence of retouching, its format (metric or imperial), its weight, its fiber composition, and its elemental constitution—are listed on the Photograph page for the print. Detailed descriptions of the procedures used to obtain the data may be found in the Materials section of the site, accessed under “Topics” in the top menu bar. Definitions of these terms appear in the Glossary, which is also in the Materials section.
While we have aimed to be as comprehensive as possible, few documents remain to confirm historical exhibition checklists. Many exhibition catalogues of the period list only the photographers’ names and omit exact titles of the photographs, making it difficult to confirm the presence of specific pictures. Listings of relevant historical exhibitions have been compiled from catalogues, from exhibition installation views, and from stamps and inscriptions on the works themselves or on duplicate prints. Known exhibitions are listed chronologically, then alphabetically for those that share the same date. For traveling exhibitions, only the first venue in which a particular work is known to have been shown is listed and “traveling exhibition” is listed in parentheses to indicate that there were multiple venues. When we know that the Museum’s particular print was included in an exhibition, that is indicated by the words “this print” prior to the name of the exhibition, and in those cases all exhibition venues are listed for which there is a record that the Walther Collection print was shown. The exhibition catalogue number and exhibited titles are listed when known.
Many American, British, German, French, and Austrian journals, books, and exhibition catalogues from the period of the works in the Thomas Walther Collection, approximately 1909 through 1949, were surveyed. While many publications included close variants, alternately cropped pictures from the same negative, and images from the same series as the pictures in the collection, only reproductions matching the Walther pictures are listed here. They are listed chronologically, and then alphabetically for publications that share the same publication date, with the page or plate number given where known. Unpaginated spreads are designated “n.p.” Unpaginated inserts are given with facing or nearby pages when possible. All originally published titles are listed with original capitalization and punctuation where possible.
Artist Biographies and Chronologies
Many of the artists represented in the Walther Collection established themselves in media other than photography. For the purposes of this site, however, biographies and chronologies privilege each artist’s education and activity in photography, focusing on the years 1900–1950.
The exhibitions, publications, schools, studios, and cities featured throughout the site as Meeting Points, filters, or data points on a map are historical events selected to reveal paths of influence through the pictures in the Walther Collection. The selection was made to feature both the events with the greatest confluence of artists from the Walther Collection and the broadest scope. Similarly, a selection of photographs that represent the geographic and stylistic breadth of the collection was selected; these pictures feature short essays co-authored by a conservator and a curator, blending the methodological approaches and research findings of both authors.