Perhaps no photograph represents the work of Ansel Adams quite like “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico”. One of the most important photographs of the 20th century, “Moonrise” is a masterpiece. To this day, it remains an enduring distillation of the American West—its desolate landscapes, its serrated peaks, its pioneering inhabitants. While this iconic image has been presented in a number of formats, few are more compelling than the original gelatin silver murals printed by the artist in the 1960s.
To examine “Moonrise” at this scale—30” x 40”—is to appreciate it at a size that only serves to magnify Ansel Adams’ vision of the sweeping New Mexican panorama. As Dr. Rebecca Senf, Chief Curator of the Center for Creative Photography, writes, “The drama comes, in part, from the relative scale of the elements: the endless quality of the sky reminds viewers of how small, and seemingly insignificant, we are in the face of the universe.”
Surprisingly, this rarely-seen mural of “Moonrise” does not just put its viewer “in the face of the universe,” but allows one to see details not visible in other printings. With this enlargement, new subtleties of tone and form become visible. Every detail of the moon—craters and all—can be seen clearly. The ridges of a canyon between the town of Hernandez and the Sangre de Cristo mountains begin to emerge. Every churchyard cross, every chimney, every shrub, every wisp of cloud–takes shape. So important to Ansel’s artistic project was this printing that Ansel himself maintained a long-lasting correspondence with its original owner, Dr. Lyman A. Johnson. In postcards and letters, Adams expressed his own pride in the luminance and scale of this mural, which captured something about that fateful day in New Mexico that other prints did not.
Ansel Adams in front of Moonrise, Hernandez Mural
Few “Moonrise” murals exist today; even fewer in such excellent condition. In fact, so rare are murals of this caliber that since 2006, only four murals of “Moonrise” have sold at auction, including one record-breaking sale at Christie’s just this past year, for nearly a million dollars.
Never has “Moonrise” been presented in a form more arresting, more awe-inspiring, and more true to the artist’s intent than in this uncommonly large mural-sized format. As Adams’ most well-recognized work, “Moonrise” is an iconic distillation of the artist’s vision—the ghostly moon rising over the desolate valley, the jagged mountains slicing upwards, the crosses in the churchyard cutting up from the earth, mimicking the mountains. In its magnification, this 30” x 40” mural is, quite simply, one of the best living expressions of that vision.