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Marion Morgan Dancers, 1920
Vintage platinum print on paper
8 7/8 in. x 7 7/16 in. (22.61 cm x 18.82 cm)
The artistic pairing of Margrethe Mather and Edward Weston was a true collaboration. Although Weston destroyed his diaries from the years of their eight-year romantic relationship, records suggest that the two developed a shared artistic vision. 1
This print of dancers from the troupe of California choreographer Marion Morgan is one of about a dozen that Mather and Weston co-produced in 1921. The photograph contains experiments with shadow and an overt sensuality that is indicative of both Mather’s and Weston’s work at the time. The pictorialist elements of the photo — its graininess and use of the platinum print, which produces fine gradations of tones — are clear. However, the photograph also indicates the more modernist direction that both photographers were pursing in their work, including the emphasis on formal elements, such as the shape produced by the human body, and the photograph’s spare, uncluttered composition.
In addition to conveying their continued interest in pictorialism while demonstrating movement toward modernism, this photograph also illustrates both photographers’ interest, since the mid-1910s, in using shadow symbolically, to lend mood or meaning to a work. In this photograph, the shadowed faces of the dancers lead to a focus on the body, particularly to the relationship between the form of the body and the surrounding architecture. The strong classicism inherent in the dancers’ poses, reminiscent of Greek sculpture, also underscores the photographers’ interest in representing the relationship between the body and architecture. This work, then, is not only a study of the nude body, but of the effect of shadow on the human form and the relationship between the body and its environment.
Although Weston and Mather’s romantic involvement had ended by 1921, when Weston began his affair with Tina Modotti, their artistic collaboration continued. 2 An intimate portrait of the two by Imogen Cunningham, taken in 1922, speaks to their continued emotional closeness.
1 Beth Gates Warren, “The Late Miss Mather,” in Margrethe Mather and Edward Weston: A Passionate Collaboration (New York and London: W.W. Norton/Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2001), 9.
2 Warren, “The Late Miss Mather,” 27-28.
(1) Illustrated in: [Weston, Edward and Margrethe Mather]. “The Nude in Art—Living Pictures. Posed by the Marion Morgan Dancers.” Los Angeles Sunday Times (26 December 1920): Rotogravure, n.p. [7 Illus. only. This illus. as: “Sunshine and Shadow”]
Two women on stone bench; one figure sitting with legs extended, other figure reclining and holding a large leaf. Artist's initials in pencil, verso. On original mount, dated and signed in pencil in lower right corner. Silhouette of portrait of a man on back of mount.
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