Edward Jean Steichen (March 27, 1879 – March 25, 1973) was a Luxembourgish American photographer, painter, and curator, who is widely renowned as one of the most prolific and influential figures in the history of photography.
Credited with transforming photography into an art form, Steichen's photographs were the photographs that most frequently appeared in Alfred Stieglitz's groundbreaking magazine Camera Work during its publication from 1903 to 1917, with Stieglitz hailing him as "the greatest photographer that ever lived".
A pioneer of fashion photography, Steichen laid claim to his photos of gowns for the magazine Art et Décoration in 1911, being the first modern fashion photographs ever published. From 1923 to 1938, Steichen served as chief photographer for the Condé Nast magazines Vogue and Vanity Fair, while also working for many advertising agencies, including J. Walter Thompson. During these years, Steichen was regarded as the best known and highest paid photographer in the world.
From 1947 to 1961, Steichen served as Director of the Department of Photography at New York's Museum of Modern Art. While there, he curated and assembled exhibits including The Family of Man, which was seen by nine million people. In 2003, the Family of Man photographic collection was added to UNESCO's Memory of the World Register in recognition of its historical value.
In February 2006, a print of Steichen's early pictorialist photograph, The Pond—Moonlight (1904), sold for US$2.9 million—at the time, the highest price ever paid for a photograph at auction.
Steichen was born Éduard Jean Steichen in Bivange, Luxembourg, the son of Jean-Pierre and Marie Kemp Steichen. Jean-Pierre Steichen first immigrated to the United States in 1880. Marie Steichen brought the infant Edward along, once Jean-Pierre had settled in Hancock in Michigan's Upper Peninsula copper country. Éduard's sister Lilian Steichen was born in Hancock, MI. She later married poet Carl Sandburg. The family, with the addition of Lilian, moved to Milwaukee in 1889, when Éduard was 10. There, he was educated in German and English at school, while speaking Luxembourgish at home.
In 1894, at fifteen, Steichen began attending Pio Nono College, a Catholic boys' high school, where his artistic talents were first noticed; his drawings in particular were said to show promise. He quit high school to begin a four-year lithography apprenticeship with the American Fine Art Company of Milwaukee. After hours, he would sketch and draw, and he began to teach himself painting. Having discovered a camera shop near his work, he visited frequently until he persuaded himself to buy his first camera, a secondhand Kodak box "detective" camera, in 1895. Steichen and his friends who were also interested in drawing and photography pooled together their funds, rented a small room in a Milwaukee, WI office building, and began calling themselves the Milwaukee Art Students League. The group also hired Richard Lorenz and Robert Schade for occasional lectures.
Steichen became a U.S. citizen in 1900 and signed the naturalization papers as Edward J. Steichen; however, he continued to use his birth name of Éduard until after the First World War.
Steichen married Clara Smith in 1903. They had two daughters, Mary and Kate. In 1914, Clara accused her husband of having an affair with artist Marion H. Beckett, who was staying with them in France. The Steichens left France just ahead of invading German troops. In 1915, Clara Steichen returned to France with her daughter Kate, staying in their house in the Marne in spite of the war. Steichen returned to France with the Photography Division of the American Army Signal Corps in 1917, whereupon Clara returned to the United States. In 1919, Clara Steichen sued Marion Beckett for having an affair with her husband, but was unable to prove her claims. Clara and Edward Steichen eventually divorced in 1922. Steichen married Dana Desboro Glover in 1923. She died of leukemia in 1957. In 1960, aged 80, Steichen married 27-year-old Joanna Taub and remained married to her until his death, two days before his 94th birthday. Joanna Steichen died on July 24, 2010, in Montauk, New York, aged 77.
Partnership with Stieglitz
Clarence H. White thought Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz should meet. White produced an introduction letter for Steichen, and Steichen—then en route to Paris from his home in Milwaukee—met Stieglitz in New York City in 1900. In that first meeting, Stieglitz expressed praise for Steichen's background in painting and bought three of Steichen's photographic prints.
In 1902, when Stieglitz was formulating what would become Camera Work, he asked Steichen to design the logo for the magazine with a custom typeface. Steichen was the most frequently shown photographer in the journal.
Fashion photography began with engravings reproduced from photographs of modishly-dressed actresses by Leopold-Emile Reutlinger, Nadar and others in the 1890s. After high-quality half-tone reproduction of photographs became possible, most credit as pioneers of the genre goes to the French Baron Adolph de Meyer and to Steichen who, borrowing his friend's hand-camera in 1907, candidly photographed dazzlingly-dressed ladies at the Longchamp Racecourse Fashion then was being photographed for newspaper supplements and fashion magazines, particularly by the Frères Séeberger, as it was worn at Paris horse-race meetings by aristocracy and hired models.
Steichen himself, in his 1963 autobiography, asserted that his 1911 Art et Décoration photographs "were probably the first serious fashion photographs ever made," a generalised claim since repeated by many commentators. What he (and de Meyer) did bring was an artistic approach; a soft-focus, aesthetically retouched Pictorialist style that was distinct from the mechanically sharp images made by his commercial colleagues for half-tone reproduction, and that he and the publishers and fashion designers for whom he worked appreciated as a marketable idealisation of the garment, beyond the exact description of fabrics and buttonholes.
At the commencement of WW2, Steichen, then in his sixties, had retired as a photographer. He was developing new varieties of delphinium, which in 1936 had been the subject of his first exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and the only flower exhibition ever held there.
In 1942 Steichen curated for the Museum of Modern Art the exhibition Road to Victory, five duplicates of which toured the world. Photographs in the exhibition were credited to enlisted members of the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps and numbers by Steichen's unit, while many were anonymous and some were made by automatic cameras in Navy planes operated while firing at the enemy. This was followed in January 1945 by Power in the Pacific: Battle Photographs of our Navy in Action on the Sea and In the Sky. Steichen was released from Active Duty (under honorable conditions) on December 13, 1945 at the rank of Captain. For his service during World War II, he was awarded the World War II Victory Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (with 2 campaign stars), American Campaign Medal, and numerous other awards.
Museum of Modern Art
In the summer of 1929, Museum of Modern Art director Alfred H. Barr, Jr. had included a department devoted to photography in a plan presented to the Trustees. Though not put in place until 1940, it became the first department of photography in a museum devoted to twentieth-century art and was headed by Beaumont Newhall. On the strength of attendances of his propaganda exhibitions Road to Victory and Power in the Pacific, and precipitating curator Newhall's resignation along with most of his staff, in 1947 Steichen was appointed Director of Photography until 1962, later assisted by Grace M. Mayer.
His appointment was protested by many who saw him as anti art photography, one of the most vocal being Ansel Adams who on April 29, 1946, wrote a letter to Stephen Clark (copied to Newhall) to express his disappointment over Steichen's hiring for the new position of director; “To supplant Beaumont Newhall, who has made such a great contribution to the art through his vast knowledge and sympathy for the medium, with a regime which is inevitably favorable to the spectacular and 'popular' is indeed a body blow to the progress of creative photography.”
Steichen as director held a strong belief in the local product, of the "liveness of the melting pot of American photography,’’ and worked to expand and organise the collection, inspiring and recognising the 1950s generation while keeping historical shows to a minimum. He worked with Robert Frank even before his The Americans was published, exhibited the early work of Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind, and purchased two Rauschenberg prints in 1952, ahead of any museum. Steichen also kept international developments in his scope and held shows and made important acquisitions from Europe and Latin America, occasionally visiting those countries to do so. Three books were published by the Department during his tenure (The Family of Man, Steichen the Photographer, and The Bitter Years: 1935–1941: Rural America as Seen by the Photographers of the Farm Security Administration). Despite his solid career in photography, Steichen displayed his own work at MoMA—his retrospective, Steichen the Photographer—only after he had already announced his retirement in 1961.
Among accomplishments that were to redeem initial resentment at his appointment, Steichen created The Family of Man, a world-touring Museum of Modern Art exhibition that, while arguably a product of American Cold War propaganda, was seen by 9 million visitors and still holds the record for most-visited photography exhibit. Now permanently housed and on continuous display in Clervaux (Luxembourgish: Klierf) Castle in northern Luxembourg, his country of origin, Steichen regarded the exhibition as the "culmination of his career.". Comprising over 500 photos that depicted life, love and death in 68 countries, the prologue for its widely purchased catalogue was written by Steichen's brother-in-law, Carl Sandburg. As had been Steichen's wish, the exhibition was donated to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
MoMA exhibitions curated or directed by Steichen
The following are exhibitions curated or directed by Steichen during his tenure as Director of Photography at The Museum of Modern Art:
1947: Three Young Photographers: Leonard McCombe, Wayne F. Miller, Homer Page, September 30–December 7 
1948: In and Out of Focus: A Survey of Today's Photography. “A survey of photography today, including prints by 76 photographers from many parts of the country, the first large exhibition organized by Captain Edward J. Steichen, Director of the Museum's Department of Photography”, April 6–July 11 
1948: 50 Photographs by 50 Photographers. “50 prints from the Museum Collections that form an abbreviated history of the development of pictorial photography during the past 100 years.” July 27–September 26
1948: Photo-Secession (American Photography 1902–1910), September 29–November 28
1948/1949 Photographs by Bill Brandt, Harry Callahan, Ted Croner, Lisette Model, November 30, 1948–February 10
1949: This Exact Instant, Events And Pages in 100 Years of News Photography, February 8–May 1 
1949: Roots of Photography, comprising works by Hill and Adamson, Julia Margaret Cameron and Henry Fox Talbot, April 26–July 24 
1949: Realism in Photography. Works by Ralph Steiner, Wayne F. Miller, Tosh Matsumoto, Frederick Sommer, July 26–September 25 
1949: Photographs by Margaret Bourke-White, Helen Levitt, Dorothea Lange, Tana Hoban, Esther Bubley, and Hazel-Frieda Larsen. “Sixty prints by 6 women photographers” October 11–November 15 
1950: Roots of French Photography, November 29, 1949–January 15
1950: Photographs of Picasso by Gjon Mili and by Robert Capa, January 24–March 19,
1950: Photography Recent Acquisitions: Stieglitz, Atget, March 28–May 7,
1950: Color Photography, May 9–July 4,
1950: Photographs by 51 Photographers, August 1–September 17,
1950: Photographs by Lewis Carroll, September 26–December 3,
1951: Korea - The Impact of War in Photographs, February 13–April 22,
1951: Abstraction in Photography, May 1–July 4,
1951: 12 Photographers, July 12–August 12,
1951: Forgotten Photographers, August 23–November 4,
1951: Memorable 'Life' Photographs, November 20–December 12,
1952: Christmas Photographs, November 29, 1951–January 6,
1952: Five French Photographers, December 18, 1951–February 24,
1952: We Create for Pleasure, January 23–March 2,
1952: Diogenes with a Camera, May 20–September 1,
1952: Then and Now, August 5–18,
1953: Always the Young Strangers, February 26–April 1,
1953: Postwar European Photography, May 26–August 23,
1956: Diogenes with a Camera III, January 17–March 18,
1956: Diogenes with a Camera IV, April 4–June 3,
1956/7: Language of the Wall: Parisian Graffiti Photographed by Brassaï, October 24, 1956 – January 13, 1957
1958: 70 Photographers Look at New York, November 27, 1957–April 15, in collaboration with Grace Mayer
1959: Photographs from the Museum Collection, November 26, 1958–January 18,
1960: Photographs for Collectors, October 1–16, “Photographs for Collectors, more than 250 prints by 66 photographers…priced at $25 and up, in color or in black and white, some framed for hanging. Styles range from photo-journalism to abstraction…and…familiar classics of photography
1962: Photographs by Harry Callahan and Robert Frank, January 30–April 1
1962: 50 Photographs by 50 Photographers, April 3–May 15,
1962: The Bitter Years: 1935–1941, October 18–November 25, selected by Steichen (described in the press release as ‘Director Emeritus’) from 270,000 taken for the F.S.A., assisted by picture researcher Davis Pratt for an installation designed by Kathleen Haven.
In the latter years of his tenure after her appointment by Steichen as Assistant Curator, it was Grace Mayer, 'overseen' by Steichen, who selected and organised the shows Recent Acquisitions (December 21, 1960 – February 5, 1961), 1960: The Sense of Abstraction, February 17–April 10,Steichen the Photographer (March 28–May 30, 1961), A Bid For Space (4 installations, 1960 to 1963), Diogenes with a Camera V (September 26–November 12, 1961), and Walker Evans: American Photographs (June 8, 1962 – February 14, 1963).
Steichen hired John Szarkowski to be his successor at the Museum of Modern Art on July 1, 1962. On his appointment Szarkowski promoted Mayer to Curator.
Though then 88 years old and unable to attend in person, in 1967 Steichen, as a still active member of the copyright committee of the American Society of Magazine Photographers, wrote a submission to the U.S. Senate hearings to support copyright law revisions, requesting that "this young giant among the visual arts be given equal rights by having its peculiar problems taken into account."
In 1968 the Edward Steichen Archive was established in MoMA's Department of Photography. The Museum's then-Director René d’Harnoncourt declared that its function was to "amplify and clarify the meaning of Steichen’s contribution to the art of photography, and to modern art generally.” Creator of the Archive was Grace M. Mayer, who in 1959 started in her career assistant to the director, Steichen, and who became Curator of Photography in 1962, retiring in 1968. Mayer returned after her retirement to serve in a voluntary capacity as Curator of the Edward Steichen Archive until the mid-1980s to source materials by, about, and related to Steichen. Her detailed card catalogues are housed in the Museum's Grace M. Mayer Papers.
Steichen's 90th birthday was marked with a dinner gathering of photographers, editors, writers, and museum professionals at the Plaza Hotel in 1969. The event was hosted by MoMA trustee Henry Allen Moe, and U.S. Camera magazine publisher Tom Maloney.
In 1970, an evening show was presented in Arles during The Rencontres d'Arles festival: "Edward Steichen, photographe" by Martin Boschet.
Steichen bought a farm that he called Umpawaug in 1928, just outside West Redding, Connecticut. He lived there until his death on March 25, 1973, two days before his 94th birthday. After his death, Steichen's farm was made into a park, known as Topstone Park. As of 2018, Topstone Park was open seasonally.
"I consider Steichen a very great artist and the leading, the greatest photographer of the time. Before him, nothing conclusive had been achieved."
Steichen's career, especially his activities at MoMA, did much to popularise and promote the medium, and both before and since his death photography, including his own, continued to appreciate as a collectible art form.
Steichen took the photograph in Mamaroneck, New York, near the home of his friend, art critic Charles Caffin. It shows a wooded area and pond, with moonlight appearing between the trees and reflecting on the pond. While the print appears to be a color photograph, the first true color photographic process, the autochrome process, was not available until 1907. Steichen created the impression of color by manually applying layers of light-sensitive gums to the paper. Only three prints of the Pond—Moonlight are still known to exist and, as a result of the hand-layering of the gums, each is unique. (The two prints not auctioned are held in museum collections.) The extraordinary sale price of the print is in part attributable to its one-of-a-kind character and to its rarity.
A show of early color photographs by Steichen was held at the Mudam (Musée d'Art moderne) in Luxembourg City from July 14 to September 3, 2007.
Steichen, Edward (1955). The Family of Man: The Greatest Photographic Exhibition of All Time. New York: Maco Pub. Co for the Museum of Modern Art.
Sandburg, Carl; Steichen, Edward, 1879-1973; Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.) (1961), Steichen the photographer, Museum of Modern Art: distributed by DoubledayCS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
Steichen, Edward; Longwell, Dennis; Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.) (1978), Steichen: the master prints 1895-1914, the symbolist period, Museum of Modern Art; Boston: distributed by New York Graphic Society, ISBN978-0-87070-581-6
DePietro, Anne Cohen (1985). The Paintings of Eduard Steichen. Huntington, NY: The Heckscher Museum. LCCN85-80519 (Exhibition Catalog).
Sandeen, Eric J. (1995). Picturing an Exhibition: The Family of Man and 1950's America. University of New Mexico Press.
Steichen, Edward, 1879-1973; Gedrim, Ronald (1996), Edward Steichen: selected texts and bibliography, Clio Press, ISBN978-1-85109-208-6CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
Johnston, Patricia A; Steichen, Edward, 1879-1973 (1997), Real fantasies: Edward Steichen's advertising photography, University of California Press, ISBN978-0-520-22707-1CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
Niven, Penelope (1997). Steichen: A Biography. New York: Clarkson Potter. ISBN0-517-59373-4.
Smith, Joel (1999). Edward Steichen: The Early Years. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Steichen, Edward; Steichen, Joanna T (2000), Steichen's legacy: photographs, 1895-1973 (1sted.), Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN978-0-679-45076-4
Haskell, Barbara (2000). Edward Steichen. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art.
Mitchell, Emily (2007). The Last Summer of the World. Norton. (A fictional narrative about Steichen.)
Steichen, Edward, 1879-1973; George Eastman House; Musée d'art moderne Grand-Duc Jean (2007), Bloom!: experiments in color photography by Edward Steichen: a selection from George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, Musée d'Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, ISBN978-2-919873-02-9CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
Martineau, Paul, 1967-, (editor.); J. Paul Getty Museum, (host institution.) (2018), Icons of style: A Century of Fashion Photography, The J. Paul Getty Museum, ISBN978-1-60606-558-7CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
Landscape with Avenue of Trees, a painting by Steichen, 1902
"Aircraft of Carrier Air Group 16 return to the USS Lexington (CV-16) during the Gilberts operation, November 1943." Photographed by Commander Edward Steichen, USNR.
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↑ Roberts, Pam (1997) "Alfred Stieglitz, 291 Gallery and Camera Work," contained in Stieglitz, Alfred (1997) Camera Work: The Complete Illustrations 1903–1917 Köln: Taschen. ISBN3-8228-8072-8, p. 17
↑ Steichen, Edward, 1879-1973; George Eastman House; Musée d'art moderne Grand-Duc Jean (2007), Bloom!: experiments in color photography by Edward Steichen: a selection from George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, Musée d'Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, ISBN978-2-919873-02-9CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
1 2 Aubenas, Sylvie; Séeberger, Henri, 1876-1947; Séeberger, Jules, 1872-1932; Séeberger, Louis, 1874-1956; Demange, Xavier; Chardin, Virginie; Bibliothèque nationale de France. Galerie de photographie (2006), Les Séeberger, photographes de l'élégance, 1909-1939, Seuil: Bibliothèque nationale de France, ISBN978-2-7177-2366-3CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
↑ Steichen’s prints appeared in an article by Paul Cornu, 'L’art de la robe', in Art et Décoration, April 1911, 101-18
↑ Steichen, Edward. 'Experiment in Three-Color Photography' in 'Our lllustrations'. In Camera Work, no . 15 (July 1906): 44
↑ Steichen, Edward; Steichen, Joanna T (2010), Steichen in color: portraits, fashion & experiments, Sterling; Lewes: GMC Distribution [distributor], ISBN978-1-4027-6000-6
1 2 3 4 Martineau, Paul, 1967-, (editor.); J. Paul Getty Museum, (host institution.) (2018), Icons of style: A Century of Fashion Photography, The J. Paul Getty Museum, p.29, ISBN978-1-60606-558-7CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
↑ Sandeen, Eric J (1995), Picturing an exhibition: the family of man and 1950s America (1sted.), University of New Mexico Press, ISBN978-0-8263-1558-8
↑ Steichen, Edward, 1879-1973; Phillips, Christopher; United States. Naval Aviation Photographic Unit (1981), Steichen at war, H.N. Abrams, ISBN978-0-8109-1639-5CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
↑ Dickie, Chris (2009), Photography: the 50 most influential photographers in the world, A & C Black, p.117, ISBN978-1-4081-0944-1
1 2 Steichen, Edward; Steichen, Edward, 1879–1973, (organizer.); Sandburg, Carl, 1878–1967, (writer of foreword.); Norman, Dorothy, 1905–1997, (writer of added text.); Lionni, Leo, 1910–1999, (book designer.); Mason, Jerry, (editor.); Stoller, Ezra, (photographer.); Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.) (1955). The family of man: the photographic exhibition. Published for the Museum of Modern Art by Simon and Schuster in collaboration with the Maco Magazine Corporation.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
↑ United States. (1967). Copyright law revision: Hearings before the Subcommittee on Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, Ninetieth Congress, first session pursuant to S. Res. 37 on S. 597., U.S. Government Printing Office