The Ansel Adams Museum Set Photographs

************************** For Immediate Release **************************

In the late 1970s, as the prices for Ansel Adams’ original photographs exploded in value, Ansel and his advisors developed a plan to be able to have his work more easily exhibited and seen by future generations. He created the Museum Set edition, sets of prints of his photographs, mostly the classic, iconic images that people have come to know and love, but also works that, while not as popular, he felt were important to his legacy. These sets would be sold, at a significant discount to then current prices, to carefully selected individuals with a history of making donations to art and educational institutions, under the agreement between Ansel and the purchaser that the set would be donated, in its entirety, to an art or educational institution.

The original agreements always named the originally intended designee, and allowed for Ansel to unilaterally cancel the contract if he felt that the purchaser was not going to follow through with the agreement.

The standard form of the agreements was later (posthumously) amended to reflect that the sets were to always remain intact, and if the purchaser were to sell or deaccession them, they had to go to a public or nonprofit art or education institution. The same stipulation was required of any successor owner, that they remain intact and sold or transferred to a public or nonprofit art or education institution, with the same ongoing stipulation. Prints purchased under those later contracts, therefore, by legal agreement, did not, do not, and will not have an unrestricted title that can easily be transferred. The Museum Sets and individual prints from Museum Sets have irregularly come to the market, almost always from the original purchaser or their descendants. As this is contrary to the written agreement between Ansel and the purchaser, we (Ansel’s family and estate) have consistently and successfully fought to enforce the agreement that they be donated to an institution. We have been assisted by many other people and institutions – dealers and auction houses throughout the United States – who recognize that the agreements with Ansel are legally binding and as such have refused to offer them for sale as contrary to law, precedent, and Ansel’s intent. We appreciate those efforts and everyone’s continued vigilance.

On December 14, 2017, a Museum Set will be available through Doyle Auctions in New York City. This set was initially acquired in 1981 from Ansel under the original standard agreement. It was donated by the family of the original purchaser to the College of New Rochelle, where it has been exhibited for students, faculty, and the neighboring public. While we would of course prefer that it stay intact and on public display, the terms of the agreement with Ansel have been met and it is for the College of New Rochelle to determine its disposition.

We have worked with the College to clearly identify the provenance of these prints. Each print is marked on the reverse with a unique number from Ansel’s studio and the “Museum Set” wet stamp.
Also on each print in this set are two wet stamps:

Collection of
The College of New Rochelle
Gift of Caryl Horwitz

and

Deaccessioned 2017
by the Board of Trustees of
The College of New Rochelle

It is clear that the prints in this specific set are no longer subject to the legal restrictions that Ansel made. We believe this is an exception, and that, by contract, other Museum Sets must remain intact and intended for public display. We will continue to enforce Ansel’s agreements to the fullest extent possible, and ask the broader art photography market to do the same. In general, Museum Set prints that are not clearly marked and identifiable as having been deaccessioned from a public or nonprofit institution are on the market contrary to Ansel’s agreements, have restricted title. We hope that the market will continue to shun these transactions and value them commensurately with any restricted sale item.

Respectfully,

Matthew Adams
President, The Ansel Adams Gallery
Grandson, Ansel Adams