Lot 32
  • 32

Edward Steichen

30,000 - 50,000 USD
43,750 USD
bidding is closed


  • Edward Steichen
  • Gelatin silver print
  • 10 by 8 in. (25.5 by 20.2 cm.)
the photographer's annotation in orange crayon and credited and with other notations in pencil on the reverse, framed, Buhl Collection and Guggenheim Museum exhibition labels on the reverse, 1903, probably printed in the 1920s


The collection of Joanna Steichen, the photographer's widow

James Danziger Gallery, New York, 1998


New York, Guggenheim Museum, Speaking with Hands: Photographs from The Buhl Collection, June - September 2004, and 4 other international venues through 2007 (see Appendix 1)

Palm Beach Photographic Centre, In Good Hands: Selected Works from the Buhl Collection, March 2011


Jennifer Blessing, Speaking with Hands: Photographs from The Buhl Collection (Guggenheim Foundation, 2004), pp.  80 and 249 (this print)

Camera Work, Steichen Supplement, April 1906, p. 7

Vanity Fair, May 1924, p. 32

Edward Steichen, A Life in Photography (New York, 1963), pl. 31

Steichen the Photographer (The Museum of Modern Art, 1961), p. 27

Joanna Steichen, Steichen's Legacy, Photographs 1895-1973 (New York, 2000), pl. 62

Todd Brandow and William A. Ewing, Edward Steichen: Lives in Photography (Musée de l'Elysée, 2007), pl. 32

Diana Edkins, Vanity Fair: Photographs of an Age, 1914-1936 (New York, 1982), p. 77

Catalogue Note

The young Edward Steichen’s portrait of J. Pierpont Morgan was a success for both the photographer and the sitter.  The patronage of such an imposing figure as the great J. P. Morgan helped launch Steichen’s career as a portrait photographer.  And although Morgan dismissed the picture at first, it later would become his most famous likeness, radiating determination and fierceness with a face and a hand.

Steichen’s photograph is energized by the glint in Morgan’s eye and by the way he angrily grabs the arm of the chair, as if ready to stand and depart.  From the beginning, critics noted how the chair arm gleamed in Morgan’s hand like a knife blade in the shadows.  Steichen was told he had only three minutes of Morgan’s valuable time, and when he suggested that the financier adjust his position in the studio chair, tempers flared.  In this instant, Steichen’s camera caught the ‘quick of the personality’ that made J. P. Morgan the most formidable banker of his time.

This was a pivotal moment for Steichen, as he recounted in his autobiography, A Life in Photography:

‘The lesson was that a portrait must get beyond the almost universal self-consciousness that people have before the camera.  If some moment of reality in the personality of the sitter did not happen, you had to provoke it in order to produce a portrait that had an identity with the person.  The essential thing was to awaken a genuine response.  This was one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned, and it stood me in good stead later when I worked for Vanity Fair and was doing portraits daily.’

As of this writing, it is believed that, aside from photogravures, the Buhl Collection print is one of the earliest prints of the image to have appeared at auction.  The photograph comes originally from the collection of Joanna Steichen, the photographer’s widow, and was likely printed in the 1920s.  The tonality and printing style are consistent with the photographs Steichen made in his early years at Condé Nast, where he began work in 1923.  Indeed, the portrait was reproduced not only in the Steichen Supplement of Camera Work in 1906, but also in Vanity Fair in May 1924, where the caption read, in part, ‘Mr. Morgan used to say that he preferred [this photograph] to all other portraits of himself.’