Carleton E. Watkins. Late George Cling Peaches. 1889

Carleton E. Watkins Late George Cling Peaches 1889

  • Not on view

Watkins was a great artist but a terrible businessman. In 1875 he lost his San Francisco studio and his entire stock of negatives to creditors, and, as a result, he was actively soliciting commissions when he might otherwise have relied on income from printing existing negatives. One of Watkins’s best clients hired him to conduct a visual inventory of his vast property near Bakersfield, in Kern County, California, to entice people to buy land and settle there. Watkins obliged by exposing at least seven hundred 8-by-10-inch glass plate negatives, along with numerous even bigger “mammoth” plates, of which this is undeniably his finest.

On a printed label beneath the photograph are two statements: one by the property owner, attesting to the fertility of the land; another by the Kern County Board of Trade, certifying that the owner’s statement is true. Photography’s usefulness as evidence was established with its invention in 1839, and its fictive possibilities began to be exploited not long after that (thus the need for Kern County’s certificate).

Late George Cling Peaches distills space in a strikingly modern way, decades before such disturbances became commonplace; the void on the right-hand side of the image, created by two pairs of fuzzy fruit that don’t quite make contact, animates the eye’s path with the metaphorical potential of impenetrable depth.

Publication excerpt from From MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)

Carleton Watkins photographed the landscape of the American West. He often worked on commission and took this closely framed photograph of a crate full of peaches on assignment. Watkins was tasked with taking pictures of landholdings in Kern County, California, to attract prospective buyers to the region. Among the qualities he was asked to emphasize were the fertility of the land and its ready access to water, both of which are evoked in this photograph of plump peaches. To support this photograph’s function as evidence, Watkins affixed to its mount a certificate vouching for the authenticity of its content.

Additional text from Seeing Through Photographs online course, Coursera, 2016
Medium
Albumen silver print
Dimensions
12 15/16 x 19 13/16" (32.8 x 50.3 cm)
Credit
Acquired through the generosity of Jon L. Stryker
Object number
896.2010
Department
Photography

Installation views

MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos.

If you notice an error, please contact us at digital@moma.org.

If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at firenze@scalarchives.com. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA's Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or moma.org, please email text_permissions@moma.org. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to archives@moma.org.

This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to digital@moma.org.