Before Ansel Adams and the Sierra Club became the face of environmentalism in the twentieth century, Vittorio Sella and the Appalachian Mountain Club were the center of outdoor art and conservation in America. Like Adams, Sella dedicated his artistic career to landscape photography becoming renowned for his mountain landscapes. From 1893 to 1910, AMC collected and exhibited Sella’s work in more than 60 locations in the United States ranging from the Northeast to the Pacific Northwest. Sella’s work presented the ideal of the great outdoor landscape and was integral to AMC’s support for its critical conservation, recreation, and education mission, including worldwide exploration, New Hampshire trail building, and resource protection throughout the Northeast.
Now, AMC is pleased to announce the public auction of the Vittoria Sella AMC Photographic Collection. The live online auction takes place on Tuesday, April 27, 2021, on the LiveAuctioneers platform, with Andrew Smith Gallery Photography Auctions LLC as the auction host.
Offered at the auction will be 549 original vintage gelatin silver and collodion silver exhibition prints in 297 lots. In this no-reserve auction, starting prices are as low as $150 per print. The works at auction are spectacular vintage exhibition prints, including historic and artistic views of the Alps (1870 to 1896), the K2 and Everest Regions of the Himalayas (Sikkim 1899 and Karakoram 1909), the Caucasus (1888 to 1890), Mount St. Elias (Alaskan Yukon Border 1897), and the Ruwanzari in Africa (1906). The collodion and gelatin silver prints range in size from 4″x 6” to 20”x 125”. Print sales will benefit AMC’s conservation and climate protection advocacy, trail building and maintenance, and the modernization of AMC’s Library and Archives.
Celebrated as the greatest landscape photographer of the late 19th and early 20th Century, Sella—like Adams—was the finest technician of his generation, mastering high altitude photography in both wet plate and dry plate technologies; he made photographs from the incredibly high altitude of 22,000 feet using glass plates and only the air that is available. He was legendary for his panoramas of mountain ranges and glaciers and was himself one of the greatest mountain climbers of his era, a truly elite athlete carrying his own gear and accompanied only by a few relatives and friends on many of his frequent climbs.
Sella traveled the world in search of the highest climbed and unclimbed mountains, making many first ascents. There are mountains, passes, and glaciers named for him. His photographs document the status of the mountains and glaciers of the world between 1870 and 1909; they now serve to document the extraordinary impacts of climate change on these same features.
Sella was a Corresponding Member of AMC for many years. In 1893, following an exhibition of Sella’s work at AMC in Boston, the club purchased the Sella collection that had been displayed. The collection has become difficult to maintain, however, and have not been active for some time. To honor the alpine heritage these prints evoke, AMC is auctioning the prints in the collection to support:
- Conservation Research and Climate Action. AMC is well recognized for our science-based approach to conservation issues, including land protection and air quality and climate change. Sella’s photographs capture glacial expanses that a century later have all but disappeared. Sale of the photographs will support AMC’s Research Team in climate change research, with a focus on climate change in the Alpine zone, and implementation of the organization’s net zero goal.
- Modernization and preservation of the AMC Library & Archives, which holds more than 144 years of written and visual history of America’s oldest conservation and outdoor recreation nonprofit, as well as numerous items of significance to Northeast mountain culture and the conservation movement. The sales will support digitization, display, and preservation of the collections. It should be noted that digital copies of the Sella collection will remain with the AMC Archives, and a display wall on Sella’s life, work, and connections to AMC and its history is in development.
- The Trails Protection Fund. AMC has maintained trails in the White Mountains for more than 140 years. The Trails Protection Fund is an endowed fund that ensures stable funding is available to support maintenance and stewardship of this precious and heavily used trails network. One-third of the proceeds of the sales will augment the Trails Protection Fund to support trails in perpetuity.
Want to learn more about Vittoria Sella and AMC’s collection? Join AMC archivist Becky Fullerton and Andrew Smith for a webinar on Wednesday, April 21 at 5 p.m. Eastern, 2 p.m. Pacific for an in depth look at the life and history of Vittoria Sella, the impact of his art, and AMC’s mission to foster the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of the outdoors. Register here.