EDWARD WESTON (1886–1958)
EDWARD WESTON (1886–1958)

Betty Katz, 1920

EDWARD WESTON (1886–1958)
Betty Katz, 1920
palladium print, mounted on paper
signed and dated in pencil (mount, recto)
image/sheet: 6 7/8 x 6 3/4 in. (17.4 x 17.1 cm.)
mount: 14 x 12 in. (35.6 x 30.5 cm.)
Betty Katz (later Brandner), California;
by descent to the present owner.
Beth Gates Warren, Artful Lives: Edward Weston, Margrethe Mather, and the Bohemians of Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2011, p. 202.


By 1920, Edward Weston had established his reputation as a skilled portraitist, fluent in the dominant Pictorialist style of the time. During this transitional period in his personal life, while in his mid-30s, Weston embraced a bohemian lifestyle with fellow artists in the Los Angeles area. In doing so, he was exposed to influences that significantly impacted his evolution from Pictorialism into a more modernist approach, the basic principles of which are woven throughout the remainder of his career.

A key group of images emerged during this transformative time which Weston termed the ‘Attic’ series. These images comprised portraits of dear friends in various attic spaces, their bodies in contrast with sharp interior angles formed by dormer windows and geometric shadows. While the overall visual effect of these images has a lingering romantic softness from Weston’s Pictorialist past, they perfectly illustrate his early incorporation of modernist forms.

Arguably the most well-known sitter in the ‘Attic’ series was Betty Katz (later Brandner), a friend of Margrethe Mather’s who resided briefly in Los Angeles in the fall of 1920. Weston and Katz embarked on a two-week affair in the attic of the Hancock Banning House near Long Beach, where Katz was staying (fig. 1), and it was the location where Weston created her ethereal portraits, present lot included.

Weston channeled his passion for Katz into these complex compositions, which the artist himself sensed were some of his most significant images to date:

Neither by spoken nor written word will I be able to tell you how beautiful these weeks have been to me – but when you look at the attic pictures they will tell you – for in them I poured all of my affection for you and used all of the stimulus your association has given to me – At least one of them will always live among the few “best things” I have ever done… (Letter from Edward Weston to Betty Brandner, 1920. Edward Weston Miscellaneous Acquisitions Collection, University of Arizona, Center for Creative Photography).

The present image, Betty Katz, was taken on the attic’s balcony and differs from other attic compositions in its central focus. While Weston framed his sitter in strong angles and shadows, this was not intended to be a study of modernist forms. Instead, Weston focused entirely on his sitter and the tenderness between them.

To fully appreciate the significance of this work’s provenance, it is necessary to understand the depth of Weston’s lifelong friendship with Katz. Though their romance was brief, the two corresponded regularly until Weston’s death in 1958. Katz’s affection is evident in a letter she wrote in 1955, thirty years after the attic interlude, at which time it was physically difficult for Weston to write:

‘Whether you write or not, you are always near to me… Just let me write to you and know, my dear, that all that is good in me is ever about you as long as I shall live’ (Letter from Betty Brandner to Edward Weston, 1955. Edward Weston Miscellaneous Acquisitions Collection, University of Arizona, Center for Creative Photography).

The present lot belonged to Katz and was presumably given to her by Weston. It has descended within her family to the present owner.

This extremely rare print is on its original mount and signed, titled and dated by the artist; this particular handling and display was typical for Weston’s work of that period. Another palladium print of this image resides in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

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