Edward Curtis | The Viewing Room

Cardozo Fine Art is excited to announce an unprecedented sale of the works of Edward Sheriff Curtis. This offering is unique in its unparalleled size, the breadth of subject matter, the exceptionally high quality and condition of the prints, and the impeccable provenance. The works in the sale are drawn exclusively from the holdings of the world’s leading Curtis expert and collector, Christopher Cardozo. Curtis is the renowned photographer/ethnographer who preserved for posterity a powerful visual record of the beauty, heart, and spirit of Native Americans and their way of life. Curtis’ artistry is widely recognized and he is now one of the most widely collected photographers in the history of the medium. 

The entire offering comprises over xxx volume photogravures with an overall estimated value of $xxx,xxx. These vintage photographs richly represent the scope of Curtis’ magnum opus, The NorthAmerican Indian. With prints being offered from all 20 volumes, from a collector/connoisseur’s perspective this is a rare opportunity to acquire an extremely broad range of images with the absolute confidence of print quality and condition never before found on the market.

Learn More About Curtis’ Volume Photogravures

Because they comprise approximately 98 percent of his extant vintage work, Curtis is known almost exclusively through his photogravure prints, commonly referred to as “gravures.” These hand-pulled photoengravings were produced by master engravers and printers in Boston primarily for inclusion in The North American Indian. 

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Photogravure is essentially a marriage of photography and engraving wherein the photographic image is chemically etched into the surface of a copper-clad engraving plate. To make a photogravure, an interpositive, generated from the negative, is exposed and contact-printed onto a photosensitized engraving plate. After the exposed plate is developed out, it is placed in an acid etching bath. 

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The acid etches microscopic depressions in the metal surface, with the shadow areas of the finished image etched most deeply into the plate. After the image has been etched into the plate, it is cleaned, and then coated with dark brown sepia ink. The inked plate is then placed in contact with a sheet of paper and run through a hand-operated press, where the high pressure transfers the ink to the printing paper.

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Curtis used the photogravure process almost exclusively to produce the 2,234 images for his magnum opus The North American Indian project. In spite of its expense and difficulty, Curtis chose photogravure because it was one of the finest photographic printing processes available and well suited for inclusion in books and portfolios. The technique and artisanship of photogravure had reached a zenith by the early 1900s, and large numbers of prints could be made with very consistent results. The warm sepia tones and subtle, soft resolution of the photogravure process complemented Curtis’ imagery perfectly.