Edward Steichen: The Early Years

Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Boston Globe
These soft-focus, moody studies of light, landscape, and form by this 20th-century master have a painterly, almost impressionist feel to them. The nudes are lushly erotic; the portraits daunting examinations of heroes and barons at the turn of the last century.
— Cate McQuaid
Afterimage
A beautifully written addition to the literature on Edward Steichen and recommended for readers both unfamiliar with and knowledgeable about his work.
— Lucy Bowditch
Choice
Beautifully illustrated. . . . 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 and highly recommended for all levels of readers.
The New York Times Book Review
Alfred Stieglitz controlled the world of art photography at the beginning of the century and, not surprisingly, Steichen became its first full-blown star. But, as 56 plates in this exquisitely produced book make clear, there is a redeeming aspect to Steichen's ambition: his pictures are incredibly good. . . . Joel Smith, in an essay as remarkable for its readability as for its erudition, manages to breathe life into the pictures.
— Andy Grundberg
The Boston Book Review
The catalog's 56 plates, and the images in the accompanying essay, give a seeming tangibility to the contained spaces of the photographs. . . . [The book] features reproductions of the finest quality. In Steichen's case, this is crucial because of the variety of photographic processes he used. . . .
— G.S. Taylor
The Evening Standard
This definitive edition includes all of Steichen's New York photographs. . .
— Laura Cumming
The Art Book
Steichen's famous images of New York's Flatiron buildings are illustrated with four examples to reveal the unique quality of each of his prints. In a lesser book, four images of the same subject might be gratuitous, but in this case each work complements the next. . . . [There is] only one image printed per spread, a luxury that is justified by the quality of the artwork and the fine printing.
— Stephan F. F. Jost
The Art Newspaper
The near-facsimile quality reproductions of early photographs by Steichen in duotone and full colour, printed on acid-free paper and enlivened by a fascinating, meticulously researched and readable biographical account of his activities, concerns and achievements from 1899 to 1924, demonstrate a benchmark standard of excellence in academic publishing.
The Independent
A definitive collection. . . .
— Geoff Dyer
The New York Times Book Review - Andy Grundberg
Alfred Stieglitz controlled the world of art photography at the beginning of the century and, not surprisingly, Steichen became its first full-blown star. But, as 56 plates in this exquisitely produced book make clear, there is a redeeming aspect to Steichen's ambition: his pictures are incredibly good. . . . Joel Smith, in an essay as remarkable for its readability as for its erudition, manages to breathe life into the pictures.
Boston Globe - Cate McQuaid
These soft-focus, moody studies of light, landscape, and form by this 20th-century master have a painterly, almost impressionist feel to them. The nudes are lushly erotic; the portraits daunting examinations of heroes and barons at the turn of the last century.
Afterimage - Lucy Bowditch
A beautifully written addition to the literature on Edward Steichen and recommended for readers both unfamiliar with and knowledgeable about his work.
The Boston Book Review - G.S. Taylor
The catalog's 56 plates, and the images in the accompanying essay, give a seeming tangibility to the contained spaces of the photographs. . . . [The book] features reproductions of the finest quality. In Steichen's case, this is crucial because of the variety of photographic processes he used. . . .
The Evening Standard - Laura Cumming
This definitive edition includes all of Steichen's New York photographs. . .
The Art Book - Stephan F.F. Jost
Steichen's famous images of New York's Flatiron buildings are illustrated with four examples to reveal the unique quality of each of his prints. In a lesser book, four images of the same subject might be gratuitous, but in this case each work complements the next. . . . [There is] only one image printed per spread, a luxury that is justified by the quality of the artwork and the fine printing.
The Independent - Geoff Dyer
A definitive collection. . . .
From the Publisher
A definitive collection. . . ."—Geoff Dyer, The Independent
Choice

Beautifully illustrated. . . . 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 and highly recommended for all levels of readers.
The Independent

A definitive collection. . . .
— Geoff Dyer
Boston Globe

These soft-focus, moody studies of light, landscape, and form by this 20th-century master have a painterly, almost impressionist feel to them. The nudes are lushly erotic; the portraits daunting examinations of heroes and barons at the turn of the last century.
— Cate McQuaid
The Boston Book Review

The catalog's 56 plates, and the images in the accompanying essay, give a seeming tangibility to the contained spaces of the photographs. . . . [The book] features reproductions of the finest quality. In Steichen's case, this is crucial because of the variety of photographic processes he used. . . .
— G.S. Taylor
The Evening Standard

This definitive edition includes all of Steichen's New York photographs. . .
— Laura Cumming
The New York Times Book Review

Alfred Stieglitz controlled the world of art photography at the beginning of the century and, not surprisingly, Steichen became its first full-blown star. But, as 56 plates in this exquisitely produced book make clear, there is a redeeming aspect to Steichen's ambition: his pictures are incredibly good. . . . Joel Smith, in an essay as remarkable for its readability as for its erudition, manages to breathe life into the pictures.
— Andy Grundberg
Afterimage

A beautifully written addition to the literature on Edward Steichen and recommended for readers both unfamiliar with and knowledgeable about his work.
— Lucy Bowditch
The Art Newspaper

The near-facsimile quality reproductions of early photographs by Steichen in duotone and full colour, printed on acid-free paper and enlivened by a fascinating, meticulously researched and readable biographical account of his activities, concerns and achievements from 1899 to 1924, demonstrate a benchmark standard of excellence in academic publishing.
The Art Book

Steichen's famous images of New York's Flatiron buildings are illustrated with four examples to reveal the unique quality of each of his prints. In a lesser book, four images of the same subject might be gratuitous, but in this case each work complements the next. . . . [There is] only one image printed per spread, a luxury that is justified by the quality of the artwork and the fine printing.
— Stephan F. F. Jost
The New York Times Book Review
Alfred Stieglitz controlled the world of art photography at the beginning of the century and, not surprisingly, Steichen became its first full-blown star. But, as 56 plates in this exquisitely produced book make clear, there is a redeeming aspect to Steichen's ambition: his pictures are incredibly good. . . . Joel Smith, in an essay as remarkable for its readability as for its erudition, manages to breathe life into the pictures.
— Andy Grundberg
Andy Grundberg
Edward Steichen (1879-1973) surely stands as the century's most interesting and problematic photographic talent, having negotiated a career that ranged from Whistlerian painter to fashion photographer, celebrity portraitist, military combat photo-grapher, and museum curator. Blessed with a redoubtable ego and what we now might call a marketing personality, he attached himself to powerful father figures who in turn helped him flourish -- starting with Alfred Stieglitz. Stieglitz controlled the world of art photography at the beginning of the century and, not surprisingly, Steichen became its first full-blown star. But, as the 56 plates in this exquisitely produced book make clear, there is a redeeming aspect to Steichen's ambition: his pictures are incredibly good. Whether a penumbral landscape, a twilit view of the Flatiron Building or a smoky nude, each print shows the effort of his labors to produce subtly colored tonal effects unmatched by other photographers even now.
New York Times Book Review
Charles Taylor
One of the moodiest of the season's books is Edward Steichen: The Early Years. The cover photo alone, a top-hatted coachman approaching the Flatiron Building in a green dusk, is a more delicate version of the images conjured by Victorian gaslight melodrama. Not all the images here are in that mood. But many seem to be emerging out of some misty vortex, as if we were being allowed only a momentary glimpse before they recede. There's a stunning portrait of a leonine Rodin standing in front of one of his sculptures wrapped in a cloak that, as Steichen renders it, might well be marble itself. And there's a nude titled "Figure With Iris" that suggests what Klimt might have come up with had he been a photographer.
Newsday
Martin Levin
The brooding Steichen (1879-1973) was one of the century's most significant photographers. His painterly work is on brilliant display in this book, co-published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The book is dominated by portraits (J. P. Morgan, G. B. Shaw), but the haunting, green-tinted cover image of the Flatiron Building is flatly amazing.
Toronto Globe & Mail
Fritz Lanham
In Edward Steichen: The Early Years, Joel Smith examines the career of the painterly photographer from the late 1890s to World War I. Praised by Alfred Stieglitz and Auguste Rodin, Steichen at an early age became a sought-after portraitist of the elite, both in the United States and abroad. He is known to many for his twilight views of New York's Flatiron Building and his sequence of moonlight photographs of the Rodin's sculpture "Balzac." Not to be overlooked are his erotic nudes and his energetic portraits of figures such as Richard Strauss and J.P. Morgan. With much of Steichen's early work, one will find it difficult to believe that the shadowy, tinted results are indeed photographs.
Houston Chronicle
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691048734
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Publication date: 11/11/1999
  • Pages: 168
  • Product dimensions: 10.08 (w) x 12.22 (h) x 0.90 (d)

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