“…they are as full of life and sparkle as an opal.”
– Edward S. Curtis, on his orotones
ALMOST CERTAINLY UNIQUE CURTIS OROTONE OF THREE BROTHERS ROCK, YOSEMITE; LIKELY THE ONLY OROTONE CURTIS MADE OF ANY YOSEMITE LANDSCAPE.
The orotone, or gold-tone, of the Three Brothers rock formation in Yosemite National Park was likely completed before 1899, by which point Curtis’ career would turn towards photographing Native American subjects. Three Brothers, Yosemite is especially noteworthy as it is not believed that Curtis took many photographs in the Yosemite Valley, or at least few survive or were ever developed. Furthermore, possibly due to his dissatisfaction with the present image, Curtis did not likely make further orotones from this plate. As Manford Magnuson, Curtis’s son-in-law and co-owner of the Curtis Studio from 1923-1968, writes in the accompanying Certificate of Authority, “This orotone lacks some clarity in the foreground which may be in the negative. This is probably the reason why no other orotones were made from this negative. While in Yosemite, E.S. Curtis did make photographs of ‘El Capitan’ and ‘Vernal Falls.’ But I don't believe orotones were ever made from those negatives.” Thus, the present original Curtis photograph is in all probability one-of-a-kind.
Curtis’ unique process of developing orotones—or Curt-Tones, as he named his— captures a translucent quality unattainable in tradition photographic print-making. This creative print-making technique saw “a positive image […] printed directly onto glass backed with a mixture of gold and banana oil, creating luminous, sepia-gold images.” (Makepeace, p. 30).
An early landscape from before the artist’s career-defining turn, Three Brothers, Yosemite stands out as a testament to Curtis’ photographic innovation and contribution to Pictorialism and the American landscape.
CURTIS, EDWARD S. Three Brothers, Yosemite (before 1899). Orotone, 14 x 10 in (35.5 x 25.4 cm); contemporary frame. With Certificate of Authenticity, signed and dated ‘1/16/92’ by Manford Magnuson in ink affixed to the frame backing. Probably unique.
Curtis, Edward S., cited in Christopher Cardozo, A.D. Coleman and Eric Jolly (eds.), Edward S. Curtis: One Hundred Masterworks (Munich: DelMonico Books-Prestel, 2015)
Makepeace, Anne, Edward S. Curtis: Coming to Light (D.C.: National Geographic, 2001)
Transcription of the Certificate of Authenticity from Manford Magnuson:
“This orotone is of the "Three Brothers" mountain formation in Yosemite Valley. It measures 10 x 14 inches which is a rare size. Most Curtis orotones are made the standard size 11 x 14 inches, with very few exceptions.
I believe this is the only Curtis orotone that exists of this scene. In fact, I don't recall that he made any other orotones of Yosemite scenes. Scenic photographs by Edward S. Curtis are rare after the 1899 when Indian photographs became his life's endeavor. I can only think of one other scenic orotone that Curtis made working out of the Los Angeles Studio and that was of the Grand Canyon.
This orotone lacks some clarity in the foreground which may be in the negative. This is probably the reason why no other orotones were made from this negative. While in Yosemite, E.S. Curtis did make photographs of "El Capitan" and "Vernal Falls." But I don't believe orotones were ever made from those negatives. I hereby certify this orotone, though unsigned, is an authentic Edward S. Curtis orotone.”.
Price: $14,500 .