Lot 15
  • 15

Edward Steichen

300,000 - 500,000 USD
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  • Edward Steichen
  • With various annotations and the photographer's West 40th Street, New York, studio stamp on the reverse
  • Gelatin silver print
  • 10 x 8 inches
the photographer’s ‘Photograph by Edward Steichen, 80 West 40th Street, New York’ studio stamp, and ‘page 101, Steichen, New York, Gloria Swanson, courtesy Vanity Fair’ and other notations in pencil and china marker on the reverse, framed, 1924


Arts et Métiers Graphiques, Paris

Private collection, France

Yann Le Mouel, Paris, 23 May 2007, Lot 108

Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, 2007


Photographie (Paris: Arts et Metiers Graphiques, 1930, reprinted in 1980), p. 101 (this print)

Other prints of this image:

Vanity Fair, February 1928, p. 49

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

Edward Steichen, A Life in Photography, (New York, 1963), pl. 28

Barbara Haskell, Edward Steichen (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2000), cover and p. 79

Barbara Haskell, The American Century: Art and Culture 1900-1950 (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1999), pl. 246

Joanna Steichen, Steichen's Legacy: Photographs, 1895-1973 (New York, 2000), pl. 79

Cleveland Amory and Frederic Bradlee, Vanity Fair: A Cavalcade of the 1920s and 1930s (New York, 1960), p. 151

Diana Edkins, Vanity Fair: Photographs of an Age, 1914-1936 (New York, 1982), p. 83

Peter Galassi, American Photography 1890-1965 (The Museum of Modern Art, 1995), p. 125

Sarah Greenough, Joel Snyder, David Travis, and Colin Westerbeck, On the Art of Fixing a Shadow: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Photography (National Gallery of Art and Art Institute of Chicago, 1989), p. 284

Maria Morris Hambourg and Christopher Phillips, The New Vision: Photography Between the World Wars, Ford Motor Company Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 1988), p. 33


This photograph is on double-weight paper with a semi-matte surface and a pleasingly slightly-warm tonality. It was contact printed from an 8-by-10-inch negative, and the black negative borders are present at the edge of the image. These characteristics, along with Steichen's studio stamp and the reduction notations on the reverse, make this a classic print from his Conde Nast period. Despite the fact that this print was intended for reproduction, it demonstrates Steichen's refusal to release a less-than-perfect print. All of the values in this print are expertly handled, and the level of detail (for instance, in the minute stitching of the veil's lace) is impressive. Although the print was used for reproduction, as evidenced by the notations on the reverse, it is in remarkably good condition. In the upper left quadrant are four very faint linear marks, which may be very faint scuffs in the surface, or areas of original retouching. These are inconsequential. There is some very minor wear and tiny losses of emulsion in the corners. In the black negative edges, several white areas can be seen: these are due to crimps or other features in the negative and do not affect the image. None of these issues undermine the beauty of this impressive print. There is some minor soiling on the reverse of the print, none of which shows through to the front. There is a small remnant of paper tape affixed to the left lower edge of the reverse of the print.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

The photograph offered here is a rare, early print of one of the outstanding celebrity portraits of the 20th century.  A Steichen icon, it embodies the creative collaboration between photographer and sitter that characterized the very best of Steichen’s portraits.    

In his autobiography, A Life in Photography, Steichen gave a vivid description of the sitting:

'The day I made . . . [these pictures] . . . Gloria Swanson and I had had a long session, with many changes of costume and different lighting effects.  At the end of the session, I took a piece of black lace veil and hung it in front of her face.  She recognized the idea at once.  Her eyes dilated, and her look was that of a leopardess lurking behind leafy shrubbery, watching her prey.  You don't have to explain things to a dynamic and intelligent personality like Miss Swanson.  Her mind works swiftly and intuitively' (A Life in Photography, Chapter 8, unpaginated).

The photograph offered here is the definitive image from this session and was first published in the February 1928 issue of Vanity Fair.  The Vanity Fair caption read, ‘A Much Screened Lady—Gloria Swanson: The star has made a film version of Miss Thompson, the [Somerset] Maugham story which is better known as ‘Rain.’’ Rain, concerning a prostitute and a reformer, was one of Maugham’s most famous stories, and Swanson was nominated for an Academy Award for her starring role.  As Diana Edkins points out in her notes for this photograph, Swanson was, by the end of the 1920s, the highest-paid woman in the world.  In addition to her persona as a femme fatale, she was also a businesswoman who produced her own films for more than a decade.  

Edward Steichen was one of the few photographers to have made a seamless transition from the artistic realm of the Photo-Secession to the lucrative world of commercial photography.  Like Swanson, he was at the top of his game when this photograph was taken.  As chief photographer for Condé Nast, he continued the incisive, dramatic portraiture he had begun years earlier with such sitters as Eleanora Duse and J. Pierpont Morgan.  Even those critical of his move to the world of commerce conceded that his celebrity portrait photography was superb.  Of Steichen’s portraits for Vogue and Vanity Fair, Beaumont Newhall wrote, ‘These photographs are brilliant and forceful; they form a pictorial biography of the men of letters, actors, artists, statesmen of the 1920s and 1930s, doing for that generation what Nadar did for the mid-nineteenth century intellectual world of Paris' (The History of Photography, 1964 edition, p. 190). 

The print offered here was the actual print reproduced in the 1930 volume of Photographie, an annual published by the influential Arts et Metiers Graphiques in Paris.  Committed to the cutting-edge photography of the day, the Photographie annuals sourced a variety of imagery from America and Europe and presented it in rich photogravure.  In the 1930 volume, Steichen’s dramatic portrait of Swanson was reproduced alongside the avant-garde work of such artists as Man Ray, Brassaï, Maurice Tabard, André Kertész, Roger Parry, and Herbert Bayer.