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Edward Steichen:
The Early Years
Joel Smith

Second Place in the 1999 Special Trade/Photography category, New York Book Show
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2000

Hardcover | 2000 | This edition is out of print | ISBN: 9780691048734


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.


"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 New York Times Book Review

"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, Boston Globe

"Steichen's misty, moody, subtle, multi-layered photographs made from experimental, painterly printing methods of the period are reproduced here in amazing fidelity. . . . Smith provides a carefully researched and highly readable biographical and interpretive essay that illuminates the diverse influences on Steichen. Highly recommended. . . ."--Library Journal

"A beautifully written addition to the literature on Edward Steichen and recommended for readers both unfamiliar with and knowledgeable about his work."--Lucy Bowditch, Afterimage

"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 Boston Book Review

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Published in association with the Metropolitan Museum of Art

File created: 3/10/2015

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