Cover image for Edward Steichen : the early years
Edward Steichen : the early years
Smith, Joel, 1964-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press in association with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, [1999]

Physical Description:
167 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 32 cm
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TR653 .S595 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize

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One of the most influential figures in the history of photography, Edward Steichen (1879-1973) was also one of the most precocious. Born in Luxembourg, raised in Wisconsin, and trained as a lithographer's apprentice, Steichen took up photography in his teens and by age twenty-three had created brooding tonalist landscapes and brilliant psychological studies that won the praise of Alfred Stieglitz in New York and Auguste Rodin in Paris, among others. Over the next decade, this young man--the preferred portraitist of the elite of two continents--was repeatedly acclaimed as the peerless master of the painterly photograph. This volume, covering the period from the late 1890s to World War I, highlights masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which houses the finest collection of Steichen's early work in the world, and reproduces them in near-facsimile through four-color digital offset lithography.

Steichen worked with a designer's inventive eye, a Symbolist's poetic sensibility, an entrepreneur's charisma, and--above all--the originality and finesse of a creative and painstaking printer to establish ambitious new standards in artistic photography. Overlaying the subtle tone-poetry of his platinum prints with repeated washes of harmonious color, he created unforgettable images. In his three famous twilight views of New York's Flatiron Building, one of the landmarks of turn-of-the-century architecture, Steichen crafted a powerful symbol of a new age. His stunning sequence of Rodin's Balzac figure in the moonlight is presented here as are his nudes, with their frankly erotic sense of flesh and weight. And the intense energy of a decade comes to life in his portraits of a diverse cast ranging from Richard Strauss to J. P. Morgan, Maurice Maeterlinck to George Bernard Shaw--and Steichen himself, the founding auteur of a century of celebrity. In the accompanying text, Joel Smith explores Steichen's maturing artistry in the light of contemporary developments in photography, graphic design, and the decorative arts.

This is a stunning visual record of the emergence of Steichen as a great artist and is one of the most important books to be published on his life and work in recent years.

Author Notes

Joel Smith is a former Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow in the Department of Photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Two big, stunning, beautiful books call attention to the importance of printing to art photography. In his introductory essay, curator Bill Jay says he thinks Brandt (1904^-83) represents "all that is wonderful in the medium." Jay argues that all three major attitudes of art photography--documentary, pictorialist, and surrealist--inform Brandt's work in varying degrees throughout his career. The 260 black-and-white plates bear him out to a tee, because what determines which attitude predominates in a Brandt picture depends upon its printing. Yes, subject, composition, and focus matter--focus crucially to the surrealism of Brandt's nudes, which he achieved after seeing Gregg Toland's extraordinary deep-focus cinematography in Citizen Kane. Earlier, Brandt tolerated "murk" --a large palette of grays. Later, he preferred high contrast, even reprinting earlier images in line with his new aesthetic. The difference between murk and the starkness for which his work is most famous is a matter of printing, which Nigel Warburton explains in an essential afterword to this indispensable survey of one of photography's grandest masters. Steichen (1879^-1973) is a godfather of art photography, whose early photographs, 56 of which are gloriously re-presented by Smith, greatly helped establish the perception of photography as an art. These are magisterial examples of early pictorialism, showing the influence of the painters Steichen admired (he painted, too), such as Monet and Whistler. Why do these painterly images look as they do, even including color, and not just monochrome tinting but different hues? Printing, of course, as Smith explains in his afterword on the four processes whose results appear in the book. Many of these pictures are among photography's icons, especially the one of New York's Flatiron building, which appears here in three different printing states; but none has ever looked better in a book. --Ray Olson

Library Journal Review

Edward Steichen (1879-1973) produced many of his strongest photographs from the 1890s to World War I, the period covered here in examples from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection. Steichen took up photography as a teenager and by the age of 23 was headed toward celebrity status as his photographs won the admiration of artists as well as fellow photographers. He was in demand as a portraitist of the rich and famous but produced some of his finest work in the portraits of other artists and in nude studies. His photographs of the Flatiron Building and other New York scenes have defined those spaces since. Steichen's misty, moody, subtle, multilayered photographs--made from experimental, painterly printing methods of the period--are reproduced here in amazing fidelity through four-color digital offset lithography. Smith (department of photographs, Metropolitan Museum of Art) provides a carefully researched and highly readable biographical and interpretive essay that illuminates the diverse influences on Steichen. Highly recommended for all photography and fine art collections.--Kathleen Collins, Bank of America Corporate Archives, San Francisco (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Few photographers from any era have proved as versatile and visionary as Steichen. He served photography as a revered artist, commercial and editorial photographer, curator, writer, and entrepreneur. Yet, few books have presented his work with interpretation worthy of his contributions. Awarded Best Historical Monograph by the publisher Photo-Eye Books, the book is beautifully illustrated with 56 rich and painterly images of his nudes, landscapes, portraits, and four versions of his arresting The Flatiron Building. Smith (Metropolitan Museum of Art) explores Steichen's emergence as an influential and even ground-breaking artist from the late 1890s to WW I. Smith provides a lucid account of Steichen's rise from his initial meeting with Alfred Stieglitz at the Camera Club of New York in 1900 and their mutual admiration and friendship to their relationship's fissure during WW I. The author's tightly written text is presented with thorough and pertinent notes and will contribute to readers' enjoyment and appreciation of Steichen's brilliant images and career. A welcome and important addition to the field, highly recommended for all levels of readers. C. Baker; Baylor University