Rare Photographs Made by Charles M. Conlon of the Greats of American Baseball Gifted to The Met
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org) announced the gift and promised gift from the collectors Paul Reiferson and Julie Spivack of an outstanding collection of 480 rare, vintage gelatin silver prints by Charles M. Conlon (American, 1868-1945) of American baseball players from 1904 to 1942—the period when the sport rose to national prominence. Conlon was a master photographer known for his distinctive and poetic documentation of America’s favorite pastime. 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.”
Jeff L. Rosenheim, Joyce Frank Menschel Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs at The Met, added, “What is exceptional about Conlon’s work is a distinct sense of comradery between subject and photographer and a unique vernacular pictorial style that both ball players and sports journalists and editors of that period recognized as peculiarly American. 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. We look forward to planning for the future exhibition of these beguiling photographs not yet fully integrated into the history of American photography.”
Charles 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 trade 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).