Thursday, July 29, 2010
A different kind of lost treasure
(July 27) -- A California man who bought a collection of glass negatives at a garage sale says they have been authenticated as lost works of Ansel Adams, but the famed photographer's grandson isn't so sure.
"I think it's irresponsible to claim that they're Ansel's," Matthew Adams told AOL News. "We think it's a very significant claim and we think it's not accurate."
After six months of study, experts concluded the 65 negatives were early works by Ansel Adams -- and worth at least $200 million, according to an attorney for Rick Norsigian, a Fresno man who bought them at a garage sale for $45.
The black-and-white images of Yosemite National Park's dramatic landscape recall some of Ansel Adams' most famous works. But Matthew Adams says they were probably not made by his grandfather, who died in 1984.
He said he has seen the handwriting on the negatives -- which were a key factor in authenticating the work -- and is sure that the writing is not that of Virginia Adams, the wife of the famed artist.
"The handwriting that they are claiming is Virginia's, to me, is not," the younger Adams said.
Matthew Adams, president of the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite, says the writing on the negatives is filled with misspellings of famous sites in the national park that his grandmother, who grew up in Yosemite, would have known how to spell.
On one of the negatives, for example, "Bridalveil Fall," a well-known waterfall in the park, is spelled "Bridalvail Fall." Adams says it's a mistake his grandmother never would have made.
"There's no way that an intelligent, articulate woman of 33 years old who had lived there her whole life would misspell that," he said.
Adams finds it unlikely that his grandfather, who was meticulous about his work, would have lost track of the negatives. And he said the series isn't labeled using the negative-numbering system his grandfather devised to catalog his work.
But others disagree.
"It's as real as any Ansel Adams negatives out there today," art dealer David W. Streets, who is featuring the prints in his Beverly Hills gallery, told AOL News today. "Without a shadow of a doubt, it's him."
Streets said the negatives are particularly important because they help show the evolution of Adams as an artist. "It truly is a missing link of Ansel Adams and history and his career," he told CNN.
Norsigian, the painter who bought the negatives at a garage sale in 2000, has spent years trying to prove that they are the work of Ansel Adams. Norsigian could not be reached for comment today, but his lawyer, Arnold Peter, said they were confident the negatives are authentic.
"Our position is really based on scientific evidence," Peter told AOL News today. He said Matthew Adams' claim that it's not his grandmother's writing is wrong.
"We have two board-qualified experts who state unequivocally that this is Virginia's handwriting," Peter said.
One of those experts, Michael Nattenberg of Fresno, who has been authenticating handwriting for more than 20 years, said he was sure the handwriting was Virginia Adams'.
"My determination was that the writing was the handwriting of Mrs. Adams," Nattenberg told AOL News today.
Nattenberg, who was hired by Norsigian to authenticate the writing, said the younger Adams may be interpreting the negatives as he'd like to see them. "My experience has been that denial is not a river in Egypt," he said.
Streets says the Adams family has been asked repeatedly over the last 10 years to take part in the authentication process but has declined. The family of the renowned photographer, he said in a phone interview today, has shown "little to no interest" in the negatives.
"I'm very sad that the family has chosen not to participate," Streets said. "The whole point is to show the lost work of Adams," he said.
But the photographer's grandson is unconvinced. He called the $200 million price tag that has been attached to the images "ludicrous."
"How they arrive at $200 million for ... negatives that might have been made by Ansel Adams is beyond me," he said in a statement.