Acquired from Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, 2000
Lausanne, Musée de l'Elysée, January - March 2008
Reggio Emilia, Palazzo Magnani, April - June 2008
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, June - September 2008
The present self-portrait is remarkable in that it so elegantly illustrates Steichen’s early command of the platinum process. Intensely interested in art of all media, Steichen first took up photography in 1895, learning technique from whatever manuals he could find. He quickly began experimenting with non-silver processes, making his first platinum prints in 1900, often toning them with gold or mercury for additional visual impact. Working with time-intensive photographic processes such as platinum and gum-bichromate gave Steichen and the Pictorialists the atmospheric, painterly effects they desired.
Steichen was a dedicated reader of Alfred Stieglitz’s Camera Notes (1897-1903), and it was through photogravure reproductions of photographs by Stieglitz, F. Holland Day, Gertrude Käsebier, and others, that Steichen first was exposed to the work that was at the very forefront of photography. Within its covers he encountered essays on the current debate of photography’s status as a fine art, and he continued these debates with his circle of artist friends and in his own photographs. Later, Steichen designed the cover art for the important 1904 Photo-Secession exhibition catalogue (see Lot 50), demonstrating his heavy involvement with the group.
When Steichen made the present self-portrait at the turn of the century, he would have been well-aware of the paintings of Claude Monet, George Frederick Watts, and James McNeill Whistler. Steichen held Whistler in particularly high regard for his attention to craftsmanship and moody, tonalist aesthetic, and the present photograph bears comparison to the painter's Portrait of Whistler with a Hat (1857-59). In the masterful composition offered here, Steichen combined the aesthetics of the artists he admired with skillful technique to create his unique approach to self-portraiture.
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