© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Timothy H. O'Sullivan, American (New York, New York 1840 - 1882 Staten Island, New York)
Ancient Ruins in the Cañon de Chelle, N.M. In a niche 50 feet above present cañon bed.
Other Titles
Series/Book Title: Geo. M. Wheeler Geographical Survey West of the 100th Meridian, 1873, no. 10
Work Type
Creation Place: North America, United States, New Mexico
Physical Descriptions
Albumen silver print
image: 27.5 x 20.1 cm (10 13/16 x 7 15/16 in.)
sheet: 52 x 40.3 cm (20 1/2 x 15 7/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • stamp: recto, top center, pre-printed mount: WAR DEPARTMENT [over] CORPS OF ENGINEERS. U.S. ARMY.
  • inscription: recto, top center, graphite: Sci2600.290
  • stamp: recto, top edge, pre-printed mount: Geographical & Geological Explorations & Surveys West of the 100th Meridian. Expedition of 1873 - Lieut. Geo. M. Wheeler, Corps of Engineers, Commanding
  • stamp: recto, on mount below image, pre-printed mount: T.H. O'Sullivan, Phot. No. 10 [over] ANCIENT RUINS IN THE CANON DE CHELLE, N.M. [over] In a niche 50 feet above present Cañon bed.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Transfer from the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Transferred from the Museum of Comparative Zoology Library, Gift of the U.S. War Department, 1877
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Label Text: 32Q: 2100 19th Century , written 2014
Timothy O’Sullivan produced some of the earliest and most influential photographs of the American frontier. As a member of the Army Corps of Engineers between 1867 and 1874, he documented the work of scientists and cartographers in a post–Civil War effort to map national territory and to promote the industrial and agricultural potential of the unexplored west. This photograph records the remnants of Anasazi cliff dwellings tucked into the expansive rock walls of Cañon de Chelle in New Mexico. The dramatic landscape documents the geological significance of the canyon while also symbolizing the decline of Native American peoples and the threat they posed.
At the time they were made, O’Sullivan’s photographs were intended as documents. Yet in the twentieth century, when photographers and curators began to evaluate his work by modern aesthetic standards, his scientific images entered the photographic canon as works of art.

Publication History

Robin Kelsey, Viewing the Archive: Timothy O'Sullivan's Photographs for the Wheeler Survey, 1871-74, History of Photography (December 2003), vol. 85, no. 4: 702-723, p. 703, fig. 1

Exhibition History

HAA 10 Survey Course (S421): The Western Tradition: Art Since the Renaissance (Fall 08 Rotation 1), Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/13/2008 - 10/19/2008

Re-View: S426A (Large Niche) #1: CB30 Photography and Society & HAA172w American Art and Modernity, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 09/04/2009 - 10/04/2009

HAA 10 Survey Course (S421): The Western Tradition: Art Since the Renaissance (Fall 10 Rotation 3), Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 11/12/2010 - 01/15/2011

32Q: 2100 19th Century, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/01/2014 - 03/04/2015

Subjects and Contexts

Collection Highlights

Google Art Project

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu