A procession of faces from another era is coming to the Museum of Modern Art.
In what MoMA describes as a landmark acquisition, it has received a complete set of 619 photographic prints by the German portrait and documentary photographer August Sander from his sweeping chronicle of German society, “People of the 20th Century.”
Over about 60 years, Sander, who died in 1964, created the photographic record of his country’s people, making naturalistic, anthropological portraits of tradespeople and professionals.
“His ambition is nothing less than to use photography to describe the people of the 20th century,” said Sarah Hermanson Meister, a MoMA photography curator, who described the collection as one of the most important works of 20th-century photography in its ambition, scope and influence.
“He is doing this through the German people, but it’s not limited in its intention to that.”
The set was acquired from the Sander family. The terms were not disclosed.
MoMA already has about 80 Sander photographs, but the acquisition takes its collection to a new level. Seven editions of the complete set were printed from the artist’s glass-plate negatives between 1990 and 1999. MoMA said it was now the only museum to hold one of these sets in its entirety.
The faces of boxer, draughtsman, engineer, bohemian, dancer, sailor, criminal and many more stare out solemnly in a classic survey of individuals as archetypes.
When asked her favorite, Ms. Meister said, “It’s a bit like picking my favorite child.”
“But maybe,” she added, pointing to a pale girl peering from a circus wagon, “the circus people are my favorite.”