Of all the original photographs that we have acquired, this is the single most significant photograph we have ever offered for sale. This is a rare, platinum Master Exhibition Print of Edward Curtis’ The Three Chiefs. This print is believed to be one of only three oversized, platinum Master Exhibition Prints of this image in existence.
Edward S. Curtis traveled and lived among dozens of Native American tribes between 1900 and 1930. He spent the summer of 1900 with George Bird Grinnell observing the Sun Dance at an encampment of Blood, Blackfeet, and Algonquin in Montana. This was a pivotal experience for Curtis, confirming his desire to study and photograph the Native tribes of North America. He studied the cultures of the people and eventually produced what is now considered the most comprehensive photo-ethnographic record of North America Indians.
This particular photograph depicts three Piegan men in traditional dress on horseback, situated next to a small stream with an expansive cloud-filled sky behind them. The Piegans were the largest group in the Blackfoot Confederacy and still retained a majority of their original culture when Curtis visited the tribe. They are an Algonquian-speaking people from the North American Great Plains. It reportedly took Curtis several days to find the perfect prairie backdrop and riders for this photo, yet his patience paid off. The image was pivotal in enabling Curtis to form his vision for his next project - his ambitious 20 volumes “North American Indian” publication. Out of more than 50,000 photographs, The Three Chiefs is still considered one of his most important works.
This particular photograph is a platinum Master Exhibition Print. Curtis’ platinum prints make up less than half of 1% of all of the work he created. He produced platinum prints only for exhibition or direct sales to patrons, and they were always made by Curtis himself. It is estimated “only four to five platinum examples of each image to have surfaced.” Curtis platinum prints, of any size, almost never appear on the auction market.