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Edward Steichen: The Early Years

January 31 through May 17, 2009

 

The Museum of Photographic Arts (MoPA) in Balboa Park is pleased to present Edward Steichen: The Early Years, on view January 31 - May 17, 2009. Edward Steichen (1879-1973) was one of the most influential figures in the history of photography. MoPA celebrates this amazing talent by exhibiting thirteen images made between 1900 and 1925, several of them made when the photographer was still in his twenties. These early photographs caught the attention of photographer-impresario Alfred Stieglitz and the praise of sculptor, Auguste Rodin. (right: Edward Steichen, Grand Prix at Longchamp: After the Races, Paris, 1907, photogravure, collection Museum of Photographic Arts)

The Early Years, presented in MoPA's Atrium gallery, is from a 1981 Aperture portfolio from MoPA's permanent collection consisting of Steichen's signature soft-focus, moody studies of light, landscape, and form. Steichen's beautifully toned landscapes, sensual nudes and still life's, and psychological portraits are a dazzling visual record of his emergence as a major talent. Included in the exhibition is his famous 1905 twilight view of New York's Flatiron Building (one of the landmarks of turn-of-the-century architecture), his 1904 Moonrise (Mamaroneck, NY), and his little known In Memoriam, a nude from 1902 (inspired perhaps by his friendship with Rodin).

Steichen heavily influenced photography, graphic design, and the decorative arts in the 1920s and 1930s. He captured the energy and innovation of his day, working as he did with "a designer's eye, a poet's sensibility, and an entrepreneur's charisma," wrote Steichen scholar Joel Smith. Steichen made his mark with a stunningly beautiful array of quiet Pictorialist photographs that Stieglitz championed in his first issues of Camera Work, images that today have broken all photography auction sales records. He would later become a major fashion photographer for the leading magazines of his era, a highly sought after portraitist in Europe and America, a war photographer in two World Wars, and a groundbreaking curator at the Museum of Modern Art, NY. MoPA's The Early Years is testimony to Steichen's emergence as a formidable artist and tastemaker who would profoundly shape the world of photography for the next four decades.

Running concurrently at MoPA is Lou Stoumen: The Naked Truth on view January 31 - May 17, 2009, Lou Stoumen Award Winners: The Legacy featuring the Mikhael Subotzky, the new Stoumen Prize winner, and all past recipients on view January 31 - May 10, 2009 and Considering Edward Curtis on view February 7 - May 10, 2009. Also on view, Picturing the Process: Exploring the Art & Science of Photography from February 7- July 25, 2009.

 

(above: Edward Steichen, Moonrise, Mamaroneck, New York, 1904, photogravure, collection Museum of Photographic Arts. © Joanna T. Steichen)

 

(above: Edward Steichen, The Flatiron Building, New York, 1905, photogravure, collection Museum of Photographic Arts. © Joanna T. Steichen)

 

Wall text for the exhibition

One of the most influential figures in the history of photography, Edward Steichen (1879-1973) was also one of the most prolific and diverse. No other photographer can claim a leading role among the Photo-Secessionists, vibrant innovation in fashion photography, chief photographer for Condé Nast's Vogue and Vanity Fair, war photography born of two world wars, signature celebrity portraiture, and the title of curator at MOMA/NY where he conceived the groundbreaking exhibition, The Family of Man, viewed by nine million people in thirty-eight countries.
 
Born in Luxembourg and raised in Wisconsin, Steichen started out as a painter while in his teens, and later learned photography. By age twenty-three he was creating painterly landscape photographs, moody still life's, and lush nude studies that caught the attention of famed sculptor Auguste Rodin and the impresario of art photography, Alfred Stieglitz. Over the next two decades, the young Steichen -- the most 'in-demand' portraitist of the elite on two continents -- became the peerless master of the painterly photograph. As Steichen scholar, Joel Smith, notes, "He 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, painstaking printer to establish ambitious new standards in artistic photography."
 

* * *

 
Edward Steichen: The Early Years presents the photographer's work from 1900 to 1925, his most creative decades. Within those years, he made his famous twilight view of New York's Flatiron Building. A landmark of turn-of-the-century architecture, Steichen transforms this symbol of a new age into a mirage that floats behind a Japonisme masterpiece of blackened branches and hansom cabs. Conversely, the negative space carved by the Parthenon solidly holds the figure of another symbol of modernity, dancer Isadora Duncan. In two other images, light delicately illuminates the weighty flesh of roses while darkness shapes the sensuous curves of a woman's torso. Steichen's artfully rendered landscapes, sensual nudes, still life's, and psychological portraits from this period are a dazzling visual record of his emergence as a major talent. Unlike any other photographer of his time, it can be confidently said that Steichen's unique artistry, vision, ideas, and energy shaped photography in the 20th century.
 
In 1969, at the end of a long career, Steichen selected twelve images that he considered his masterpieces for a final photographic project. He approached Aperture Publications with a formidable task: to publish these prints as hand-pulled photogravures. Like Stieglitz, Steichen always considered photogravures works of fine art. Jon Goodman, who was reviving the photogravure process at the time, painstakingly made plates from Steichen's negatives and printed them at an atelier in Switzerland. The resulting portfolio, Edward Steichen: The Early Years, from MoPA's permanent collection, constitutes a stunning visual record of Steichen's emergence as one of the greatest artists in photography's 170-year history, a medium that, like the artist himself, has reinvented itself in a new century.

 

(above: Edward Steichen, Heavy Roses, Voulangis, France, 1914, photogravure, collection Museum of Photographic Arts. © Joanna T. Steichen)

 

(above: Edward Steichen, Torso, Paris, 1902, photogravure, collection Museum of Photographic Arts)

 

Checklist for the exhibition

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Grand Prix at Longchamp: After the Races, Paris, 1907, printed later
From the portfolio The Early Years, 1900-1927
Photogravure
Museum purchase, 1985.023.001
 
Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Self-Portrait with Sister, Milwaukee, 1900, printed later
From the portfolio The Early Years, 1900-1927
Photogravure
Museum purchase, 1985.023.002
 
Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Torso, Paris, 1902, printed later
From the portfolio The Early Years, 1900-1927
Photogravure
Museum purchase, 1985.023.003
 
Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Moonrise, Mamaroneck, New York, 1904, printed later
From the portfolio The Early Years, 1900-1927
Photogravure
Museum purchase, 1985.023.004
 
Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
In Memoriam, New York, 1902, printed later
From the portfolio The Early Years, 1900-1927
Photogravure
Museum purchase, 1985.023.005
 
Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Steichen and Wife Clara on their Honeymoon,
Lake George, New York, 1903, printed later
From the portfolio The Early Years, 1900-1927
Photogravure
Museum purchase, 1985.023.006
 
Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Richard Strauss, New York, 1904, printed later
From the portfolio The Early Years, 1900-1927
Photogravure
Museum purchase, 1985.023.007
 
Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
The Flatiron Building, New York, 1905, printed later
From the portfolio The Early Years, 1900-1927
Photogravure
Museum purchase, 1985.023.008
 
Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Heavy Roses, Voulangis, France, 1914, printed later
From the portfolio The Early Years, 1900-1927
Photogravure
Museum purchase, 1985.023.009
 
Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Isadora Duncan at the Portal of the Parthenon, Athens, 1920, printed later
From the portfolio The Early Years, 1900-1927
Photogravure
Museum purchase, 1985.023.010
 
Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Three Pears and an Apple, France, 1921, printed later
From the portfolio The Early Years, 1900-1927
Photogravure
Museum purchase, 1985.023.011
 
Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Brancusi in His Studio, Paris, 1925, printed later
From the portfolio The Early Years, 1900-1927
Photogravure
Museum purchase, 1985.023.012
 
Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Portrait of Clarence H. White, 1905, printed later
Photogravure
Gift of Dorothy and Eugene Prakapas, 1991.007.001
 

 

(above: Edward Steichen, Three Pears and an Apple, France, 1921, photogravure, collection Museum of Photographic Arts)

 

(above: Edward Steichen, Isadora Duncan at the Portal of the Parthenon, Athens, 1920, photogravure, collection Museum of Photographic Arts)


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