Exclusively represented by the Andrew Smith Gallery, Inc.

Introduction to the Collection

Vittorio Sella: 750 Exhibition Topographic, Mountaineering and Ethnographic Silver Prints Sold for the Benefit of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), Boston.
 Images subject to 2013 ©Fondazione Sella, Biella, Italy

Vittorio Sella (1859-1943) was the leading large format, mountaineering photographer of the late 19th and early 20th century, renowned for his spectacular high altitude photographs of glacial floes, peaks and valleys.   Sella traveled the world, photographing in the European Alps, the Caucasus,  Mt. Saint Elias (Alaska Yukon Border), and the Himalayan Sikkim.   In the early 1900s he photographed mountains in Africa Ruwanzari and the Himalayan Karakoram.   

Sella worked in all four seasons and under the most difficult circumstances, documenting the highest regions of the earth with extraordinary artistry.  Ansel Adams paid tribute to Sella's greatness in a 1946 article for the Sierra Club Bulletin when he wrote,  “with Sella’s sensitive insight and response the magnificence of mountains is distilled into a high order of expression.” 

The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Collection is the largest and most important group of Vittorio Sella Exhibition Prints in the world containing material from all Sella's photo-essays of his mountaineering excursions to Europe, Asia, North America, and Africa from 1879 to 1909.  Many of the photographs were hand picked by Sella himself and donated to the AMC.


963 AXI

963 AXI The Tyrol, Highest Peak of Cimon Della Pala, 1891 c.

205 AIX

205 AIX (The Oberland) Aletsch Glacier and Eggischhorn, from Concordia Hut, 1884 c.

The AMC collection contains 750 exhibition prints of topographic, mountaineering and ethnographic subjects, including 56 multi-plate panoramic views Sella made as albumen and collodion printing out prints.  Subjects include the European Alps (1879 – 1895), the Caucasus (1889, 1890, 1896), Mt. Saint Elias in the Alaska Yukon Border (1897), the Himalayan Sikkam (1899), Africa Ruwanzari (1906), and the Himalayas Karakoram (1909). 

Single prints range in size from 4.5 to 7.5” to 17 x 23”.  The 56 panoramic groups contain between 2 and 9 prints each ranging in size from 5.98 x 14.17” to 19.29 x 123.7”. 

The collection is owned by the Appalachian Mountain Club, Boston and is being offered for sale to benefit the Club. The exclusive agent is Andrew Smith Gallery, Inc., Santa Fe, New Mexico.

109-113 HK

109-113 HK Panorama from northern spur of Gasherbrum; Bride Peak [K2] (point reached by H.R.H.);Vigne Glacier; Mitre Peak, Nasherbrun, Baltoro; K2, Godwin-Austen glacier, 17.24 x 119”, 1909

Index to Prints:

A. 002 The Alps
i. 002A AI Dauphiny - 34, 31 single prints + 3 panoramas (10) 41 prints
ii. 002B AII Grand Paradis Group - 7, 6 single prints + 1 panoramas (3) 9 prints
iii. 002C AIII Mont Blanc and Neighborhood - 21, 19 single prints + 2 panoramas (5) 24 prints
iv. 002D AIV Between Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn - 29, 27 single prints + 2 panoramas (6) 33 prints
v. 002E AV The Matterhorn and Neighborhood - 29 single prints
vi. 002F AVI Dent Blanche, Weisshorn and Neighborhood - 30 single prints
vii. 002G AVII Monte Rosa and Neighborhood - 36, 33 single prints + 3 panoramas (14) 47 prints
viii. 002H AVIII Mischaelhorner and Neighborhood - 16, 14 single prints + 2 panoramas (4) 22 prints
ix. 002I AIX The Oberland - 43, 41 + 2 panoramas (6) 49 prints
x. OO2J AX Monte Della Disgraza, Bernina and Ortler Groups - 23, 16 + 2 panoramas (7) 30 prints
xi. 002K AXI The Tyrol - 30, 25 single prints + 5 panoramas (15) 40 prints

xii. Etna AXII (8 single prints) 8 prints

B. 003 The Caucasus
i. 003A CI Elbruz and Neighborhood- 17, 15 + 2 panoramas (8) 23 prints
ii. 003B CII Mountains of Saeta - 22, 18 single prints + 4 panoramas (12) 30 prints
iii. 003C CIII Central Groups - 29, 28 single prints + 1 Panorama (7) 35 prints
iv. 003D CIV Fastak-kokh and Giulukii Groups - 8, 4 single prints + 4 panoramas (16) 20 prints
v. 003E CV Adai-khokh - 12, 10 single prints + 2 panoramas (10) 20 prints
vi. 003F Ethnological Series
1. 003F1 The Northern Valleys - 12 single prints
2. 003F2 The Southern Valleys - 57 single prints

C. 004 E Mt. Saint Elias Alaska, 1897
i. 11, 9 single prints + 2 panoramas (8), 17 prints

D. 005A HS Himalayas and Sikkim 1899
i. 50, 42 single prints + 8 panoramas (35) 77 prints

E. 005B HK Himalayas and Karakoram, 1909
i. 46, 40 single prints + 6 panoramas (24) 64 prints

F. 006 R Ruwenzori Mountains, Africa, 1906
i. 37, 31 single prints + 6 panoramas (25), 56 prints

From 1879 to 1895 Sella made regular photographic excursions to well-known, as well as less traveled parts of the Alps.  In 1889 and 1890 he explored the Caucasus, which had some of the highest mountains in Europe.  He organized his photographs into catalogs and sent them to geographical societies as a way of promoting his work. 

Sella further refined his catalog photographs to create the greatest exhibition of his career, the February 1893 Geographical Exhibition of Turin, where his prints won the Grand Gold Medal and Diploma of Honour.  The exhibition was organized around his photo-essays of geographic sub-regions.  The first 11 sections featured topographic views of the Alps, the 12th section was on Mt. Etna, and the 13th and 14th sections contained ethnographic and topographic views of the Caucasus.

The Turin exhibit traveled to the United States where it opened in Boston in May 1893 at the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), the oldest Alpine Club in the U.S. founded in 1876. The catalog that accompanied the 1893 exhibit listed the geographic groups, along with individual prints.  It also described each print making up the Panoramic photograph [see Section 008 B].

The AMC exhibited the Turin works (with a few additions) at their headquarters in Boston, as well as at the Boston Arts Club.  A short time later they purchased the collection.

In 1896 Sella donated 41 prints to the AMC from his 1894-95 Alpine excursions.  The following year he became an honorary member of the AMC and subsequently donated views from his 1896 Caucasus series.  More donations followed. In 1898 he gave the AMC a small group of photographs from Mt. Saint Elias; in 1901 he gave them 70 Himalayan prints from his 1899 series, and in 1906 he donated a small group of Africa prints.  In 1909 the AMC purchased a group of notable views from Sella’s 1909 Himalayan trek.

The AMC was co-founded in 1876 by Professor Charles E. Fay of Tufts University who was one of the Club's active leaders for three decades and a correspondent with Vittorio Sella.  The AMC was a central feature of Boston's cultural and arts community that offered monthly lectures, presentations and exhibitions, as well as outdoor activities such as organized climbs, hikes and maintaining huts and trails.  In 1891 the AMC hosted a Geographical Exhibition at the Winslow Skating Rink that included a small group of Sella's photographs.  Since Sella had become a Corresponding Member of the Club, Fay proposed that the AMC host a small exhibition of his photographs.

By 1892, Sella was preparing his large exhibition for the Geographical Congress in Turin scheduled for February 1893.  It is this group of 400 prints from the Turin show that forms the core exhibition group in the AMC collection.  The prints were made by Sella and his assistant, Emile Botta, and intended for both the Turin Exhibition in Italy and for the AMC exhibit in America. 

All the Turin prints Sella sent to the AMC were mounted, but after that he gave the AMC un-mounted prints that were later mounted in Boston.  Occasionally, when mounts became damaged during exhibitions they were trimmed flush to the photographs.  The prints were then remounted, repaired and protected as needed. 

When these photographs, along with a few additions, came to Boston in the spring of 1893, a "Committee on the Sella Collection" was created by the AMC to manage the exhibition, oversee new acquisitions and organize traveling shows.   After being exhibited at the AMC and the Boston Arts Club in 1893, the prints traveled to New England and for the next 12 years circulated in various forms throughout the United States.  In 1897 Sella saw an exhibition of his prints in Portland hosted by the Mazamas Club.  After 1910 the prints were exhibited only sporadically.


CVI-644 Southern Valleys (Ingur): Women of the Village of Latal, 10.5 x 15.2” 1890 c.

This was an era when geographical societies, exploration and mountaineering clubs and mercantile (research) libraries proliferated in many towns and cities.  The Sella family had helped found the Italian Alpine Club in 1863; a European equivalent of the AMC co-founded in 1876 by Charles E. Fay.  The Alpine Club fraternity was a small, international network modeled after the first club of its type founded in London in 1857.  Members corresponded with each other, shared publications and information about guides, porters and climbs in foreign lands. Such clubs provided scientific, ethnographic and intellectual materials that were a valuable cultural asset for professionals and amateur enthusiasts alike.  In their lectures photographers, naturalists, explorers and artists often used photographs and printed illustrations as a means of disseminating information about the latest artistic and scientific ventures.

By the early 1890s the idea that photographs could be artistic was commonplace, though most artists, including the young Alfred Stieglitz, held that they should be "painterly," soft-focused pictures representing nostalgic, sentimental and romantic qualities.  Running parallel to this “pictorial” sensibility were the sharp focused views made by exploration photographers like Sella who was striving to capture geological and geographical verisimilitude through powerfully composed, crisp pictures.  By 1910 photographers like Stieglitz and Paul Strand began to shift away from pictorial imagery in favor of more documentary, unsentimental, hard edged pictures with a "modernist" sensibility, very like the pictures that Sella had been producing all along. Artistically, Sella was ahead of his time since he had an eye for the abstract masses of mountains, as well as the details of escarpments and glaciers.

According to Charles Fay, writing in the 1893 AMC Bulletin,  Vittorio Sella was born in the Piedmont Region of Biella, northern Italy in 1859, in sight of the outliers of the Alps.  His father, Venanzio Guiseppe Sella, was a woolen manufacturer who ran textile mills called Lanificio Maurzio Sella, which had been in the family for hundreds of years.  The son seems to have inherited his father’s versatility, for Venanzio Sella not only authored a standard work on woolen manufacture, but also published a treatise in 1856 on the then new art of photography, which was translated into German and French and incorporated in Roret's Encyclopedic.

Sella's uncle, Quintino Sella, was a famous Italian minister of finance and founder of the Italian Alpine Club.  It was he who taught the boy to love the mountains by taking the fifteen year Sella on his first ascent in 1874, followed by another a year later.

In 1877 Sella left school to serve in the Italian army, and then returned to Biella to carry on the family business since his father had died in 1876.  Every holiday, summer and winter, Sella was in the nearby mountains, often carrying an old photographic apparatus that had belonged to his father.  By 1879, the twenty year old Sella had become an accomplished photographer who had mastered the collodion wet plate process and learned to develop mammoth glass plates on site, even in harsh weather conditions. He also began working with dry plates around this time. 

Sella’s negatives ranged in size from the standard 30 x 40 cm. (11 x 15.5" app.), 12 x 20 cm, (8 x 10" app.), and 24 x 30 cm (9 x 12" app.).  He also used stereoscopic and handheld Kodak cameras.  By the time of the Turin exhibition he was enlarging his prints.  The most celebrated of his work were the multi-plate panoramas which would comprise much of the AMC collection.

Sella generally climbed with his brothers, cousins and friends from the region. He was motivated by two goals: to make numerous first winter ascents and to create a photographic catalog of the spectacular mountains.

Though small in stature (only 5 foot 6 inches), Sella possessed tremendous strength and endurance. In 1879, in order to make his first panorama from Mont de Mars, he spent two weeks camping at 8,000 feet in a small tent on its summit.  In 1880 he began his annual photographic excursions to the Alps, followed by more trips in 1889 and 1890 when he headed to the Caucasus.

Sella became famous among climbing fraternities as far away as London for his 1882 winter crossing of the Matterhorn when he ascended on one side and descended down another.  The speed of his campaigns was astonishing.  In 1887 between July 29 and August 11 he climbed the Weisshorn twice, the Mettelhorn, Mittelgabelhorn, Alphubel, Rimpfischhorn, Dent Blanche, and the Dufourspitze of Monte Rosa.  In 1889 and 1890 he made the first of two self-financed excursions to the Caucasus  (AMC Bulletin Vol. VII, 1893-1895).

Along with being a mountaineer and photographer, Sella was also an energetic business man.  In 1886 he formed a bank, Gaudenzio Sella & Co., with three of his brothers and three cousins (as of 1999 "The Sella Group").  In 1899 he and his family started a modern viticulture program (vineyard) in Sardinia, known today as "Sella & Mosca.”  His other business venture was the distribution, exhibition and sales of his mountain views.  Like other large format photographers of the time; William Henry Jackson, Carleton Watkins, Bisson Freres, Roger Fenton, the Alinari Brothers, and Samuel Bourne, Sella produced a catalog of mountaineering photographs that numbered 100 views in 1882.  By 1888 that number had grown to 534.  Sella had a field and studio assistant named Emile Bota.  He preferred to manage his own distribution.   Later he worked with Spooners in London from 1882 to 1917 and when Spooner died he moved his work to Sifton Praed.  His photographs were exhibited widely in climbing, geographical and exploration clubs and societies throughout Eurasia and North America.  In the United States, the Appalachian Mountain sets were shown at over 100 venues in the 1890s and 1900s.

In Sella's era photography was the primary tool of Eurasian and American science, exploration, and ethnography studies.  Much of the earth had been mapped and explored, and by 1890 the few remaining frontiers were the most remote, inaccessible environments and habitations of the world's highest mountains and the North and South Poles.  Patrons for exploration excursions included governments, private railroads, mining and land development magnates and companies, and royalty.  Photography made on these expeditions was used for promotion, education and for the scientific content it offered.

Sella's uncle Quintino had served as finance minister to Italy's King Victor Emmanuel II (1820-1878) from the Piedmont region (Kingdom of Sardinia) and the first King of a unified Italy since the sixth century.  One of the King's grandsons, HRH Prince Luigi Amedeo Giuseppe Maria Ferdinando Francesco di Savoia, the Duke of Abruzzi (1873-1933), was an avid Arctic explorer and mountaineer who had been climbing with Sella since he was a young man.  In 1897 the Duke of Abruzzi became  Sella’s patron.  Over the years he would organized and fund three notable scientific, exploratory, and photographic excursions on which Sella served as both climber and photographer. 

In 1897 Sella joined the Duke of Abruzzi on an expedition to scale Mt. Saint Elias on the Alaskan Yukon border, the fourth highest peak in North America (18,008 ft.).  Given its remote location the journey proved incredibly arduous, especially since Sella took two cameras weighting ten and twenty pounds and packs of glass plate negatives.  These were affected by Alaska’s high humidity resulting in a grayish cast.  Sella and the Duke scaled the peak as Sella made highly significant photographs of the region.   (Two years later in 1899, the American railroad tycoon E.H. Harriman led a group of scientists and photographers by boat through this same area on an Alaskan expedition and hunting trip.  Members of that party included Edward S. Curtis, John Muir and John Burroughs.]


103-106 E Mt. Saint Elias Range from the L side of the Seward Glacier near its mouth above the Malaspina glacier.  103: Chaix Hill, Moraine, Malaspina Glacier; 104: Agassiz Glacier, Samovar Hills, Mt. Huxley, Mt. Saint Elias; 105: Mt. Newton, Cascade Glacier; 106: Augusta, Augusta Glacier, Corwin Cliffs, Pinnacle Pass. 10.9 x 52.1” 1897

In September and October of 1899, Sella and his brother Erminio joined Douglas Freshfield, the premier British mountaineer, on a circular tour around Kangchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world in the Himalayas.  This previously unmapped region lay on the borders of Nepal and Sikkim. They left from Gangtok, traveling to the east base of Kanchenjunga to the 20,200 foot pass of Jonsong-La before entering southern Tibet. The expedition endured blinding snowstorms, limited food supplies, and political unrest in Nepal, yet Sella returned with a magnificent set of images of this exotic part of the world. 

55 HS

55 HS Siniolchun, 22570 feet telephotograph from Zemu Glacier, 15.1 x 11.1 1899

In June and July 1906, Sella joined the Duke of Abruzzi's expedition to the Ruwenzori Range in Uganda, Africa for the first ascent of Mt. Stanley, Ngaliema, the fourth highest peak in Africa where he made 16 first ascents. Contending with the humid, misty atmosphere of the  rain forests and mountains, he captured Uganda’s rugged wilderness and made portraits of its native people. On this trip he also made some of the first photographs of botanical specimens from the region. 

72-77 R
72-77 R From Grauer Rock.  Panorama. 11.7 x 67”

Sella's final excursion was in April-July 1909 when he had joined the Abruzzi expedition to climb K2 in the Karakoram in the western Himalayas. (The Duke's goal was to see how high a man could climb and he wanted Sella to chronicle his increasingly bold explorations for future generations.)  On K2, the second highest peak in the world, they reached 19,685 feet on the Southeast Ridge, now known as the Abruzzi Ridge. They were only the second team to attempt climbing K2 and though they were unsuccessful the Duke set a world record by climbing to 24,600 feet on Chogolisa or Bride Peak. Sella was the first person to photograph the region’s mountain ranges,   glaciers and tropical forests.

Vittorio Sella died in 1943 at the age of eighty-four, having made his final attempt to climb the Matterhorn in 1935 at the age of seventy-six; an endeavor abandoned only because of an injury to one his guides. 



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