Rose Mandel, Jerrold Davis (detail), 1955. Gelatin silver print. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Gift of Susan Ehrens, 2012.55.1

The Errand of the Eye: Photographs by Rose Mandel

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From the late 1940s through the early 1970s, Rose Mandel produced an original and evocative body of photographs, working closely with and among many of the Bay Area’s best-known artists including photographers Ansel Adams and Minor White and painters Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff. Though lauded by her contemporaries and featured in significant exhibitions and publications during her lifetime, her work remains little known.

This exhibition, organized in collaboration with guest curator Susan Ehrens, offers the first full assessment of this dynamic artist. After escaping Europe with her husband in 1942, Mandel came to the Bay Area and enrolled in the newly founded photography department of the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). She went on to serve as senior photographer for UC Berkeley’s art department, and in her personal time created intimate, powerful nature studies, portraits, and landscapes. Her work engaged a range of art movements, including surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, the Northern California modernist tradition represented by Adams and White, as well as the broader American landscape tradition embodied in the photographs of Harry Callahan and Ralph Eugene Meatyard.

Mandel’s lyrical sequence of in-and out-of-focus close-ups of vegetation titled The Errand of the Eye was first exhibited at the Legion of Honor in 1954. 60 years later, the de Young is proud to host Mandel’s first retrospective exhibition illuminating her rightful place in the history of modernist photography.


The catalogue is published with the assistance of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Endowment for Publications.

This exhibition is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Currently on view