The J. Paul Getty Museum

Nude, Bertha Wardell

Object Details


Nude, Bertha Wardell


Edward Weston (American, 1886 - 1958)




Glendale, California, United States (Place Created)




Gelatin silver print

Object Number:



22.1 × 16.5 cm (8 11/16 × 6 1/2 in.)


© 1981 Arizona Board of Regents, Center for Creative Photography

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Object Description

Edward Weston left Mexico for California in November 1926 and never returned, although he had hoped to do so. Moving back to Glendale, he set up his old studio but remained separated from his first wife, Flora (1879-1965). In February 1927, after seeing an exhibition of Weston's work at the University of California, Los Angeles, the dancer Bertha Wardell (1896-1974) enthusiastically volunteered to be his model. She became a friend and lover, posing nude for him in his studio. Over the course of several sessions, Weston made a number of pictures of Wardell dancing. He wrote in his daybook of one such visit, “Her beauty in movement is an exquisite sight. Dancing should be always in the nude!” Although inspired by her motions, the photographs were not actually action shots, for the light in Weston's studio required several seconds of exposure time. When Weston saw a movement that he wanted to record, he would call on Wardell to hold her pose while he made the picture.

As he had with his nude studies of Tina Modotti (1896-1942) in Mexico, Weston filled the frame with truncations of Wardell's body, isolating them against a plain background and capturing their simultaneous strength and elegance. However, with her identity masked in these faceless depictions, Wardell becomes a more neutral subject for Weston's study of human form. The dark lines accenting contours of her body were not, as some of Weston's contemporaries suggested, penciled onto the negative but rather were thinly cast shadows produced through skillful lighting.

Brett Abbott. Edward Weston, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2005), 50. ©2005, J. Paul Getty Trust.

The Art of Photography: 1839 - 1989 (February 11 to December 23, 1989)
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, February 11 to April 30, 1989
  • National Gallery of Australia (Canberra), June 1 to August 1, 1989
  • Royal Academy of Arts (London), September 23 to December 23, 1989
Persistent Themes: Notable Photography Acquisitions, 1985-1990 (June 5 to September 2, 1990)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu), June 5 to September 2, 1990
Dance in Photography (February 2 to March 28, 1999)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), February 2 to March 28, 1999
Tina Modotti and Edward Weston: The Mexico Years (April 29 to August 1, 2004)
  • Barbican Art Gallery (London), April 29 to August 1, 2004
Edward Weston: Enduring Vision (July 31 to November 25, 2007)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), July 31 to November 25, 2007