Some of Charles Conlon’s greatest baseball photos are being donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Museum has announced the gift and promised gift from collectors Paul Reiferson and Julie Spivack of a collection of 480 rare, vintage gelatin silver prints from Conlon’s archive. The photos date from 1904-1942.
Well known to collectors of baseball photography and fans of the game’s history, Conlon’s work was revolutionary and his original images are highly desirable.
Highlights of the collection include portraits of Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, Pee Wee Reese, and Ty Cobb, among many other greats from the early years of baseball.
“Charles Conlon captured an important chapter in American sports history, and it’s especially thrilling to announce this generous gift just as the 2022 baseball season is about to start up,” said Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. “These photographs are an import addition to The Met’s collection, and a wonderful complement to the Museum’s renowned Jefferson R. Burdick collection of printed baseball cards. We are exceptionally grateful to Paul Reiferson and Julie Spivack.”
Conlon was an upstate New York newspaper proofreader and amateur landscape photographer who began making snapshot studies of athletes at baseball games in 1904. When he ended his career in 1942, he was widely celebrated for his candid but lyrical photographs that appeared as halftone reproductions in the annual Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide and the monthly Baseball Magazine, and were also reproduced widely on baseball cards. Many of the photographs appear in the two monographs on the artist: Constance McCabe, Baseball’s Golden Age: The Photographs of Charles M. Conlon (1993) and Constance and Neal McCabe, The Big Show: Charles M. Conlon’s Golden Age Baseball Photographs (2011).
“Among the most surprising pictures in the collection are close-up studies that reveal in detail how individual pitchers held the ball for fastballs, curves, spitballs, and sliders, and how power batters gripped their bats during different situations at the plate, remarked Jeff L. Rosenheim, Joyce Frank Menschel Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs at The Met. We look forward to planning for the future exhibition of these beguiling photographs not yet fully integrated into the history of American photography.”