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The George Washington Bridge
Silver print, warm-toned
13 1/4x9 1/2 ins (33.7x24.1 cm) (image)
Swann Galleries - New York
Feb 25, 2020 , Classic & Contemporary Photographs, Sale 2531, Lot 130
This rare vintage print has been in a prominent American family's collection since the mid-1930s. Robert Edward Kiehl (1906-2004), a graduate of Columbia University, worked as Bourke-White's assistant from 1932-1935, the period when her studio was located in the Chrysler Building's tower.
Kiehl's background keys in to a larger New York story. His mother, who valued education, learned about the Lincoln Experimental School, an institution supported by the Rockefeller Family, which employed the principles of John Dewey. Nelson Rockefeller was his high school classmate.
Robert Kiehl's father, John, was a German prescription pharmacist who ran a "no nonsense" drug store on Third Avenue and 13th Street, which is still known today as Kiehl's Pharmacy. The store was located on a property that, at one time, belonged to Peter Stuyvesant, New York's first Governor, where a pear tree graced the corner. At one time "Pear Tree Pharmacy' served briefly as the name of the shop.
After Kiehl's father's death, in 1921, the business was purchased by Irving Morse (a.k.a. Moskowits), an apprentice who had graduated from Columbia University with a degree in pharmacology. Morse went on to develop many bodycare products that are still popular today.
Bourke-White's image of the George Washington Bridge, with its repetitive lines and bold girders, is a modernist masterpiece that highlights her rigorous sense of form and scale, here verging on abstraction. Given the date of the negative and Kiehl's period of employment, he may have also had a hand in the creation of this print; one of his previous jobs was as a photo finisher for duPont labs.