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Steichen, Edward J.

    Full Name: Steichen, Edward J.

    Other Names:

    • Edward Steichen

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 27 March 1879

    Date Died: 25 March 1973

    Place Born: Luxembourg, Luxembourg

    Place Died: West Redding, Fairfield, CT, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): photographs


    Photographer and second director of the Photography Department, Museum of Modern Art, New York. Steichen emigrated with his family, Jean Pierre and Marie Steichen, to the United States from Luxembourg in 1881. He grew up in Hancock, MI, where his father was a copper miner and then in Milwaukee, WI when the family moved again. Steichen attended public schools only until age 15 developing a interest in both art and photography. As an apprentice at a Milwaukee lithography company, he honed his skills. The photographer Clarence H. White (1871-1925) discovered his work an introduced him to the important photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) in New York who bought three of his photographs. Steichen went to Paris to study at the Académie Julian exhibiting in London and Paris in 1900. He and Stieglitz co-founded the New York “Photo-secession Group” and he contributed to Steiglitz’s magazine, Camera Work. He continued to paint, supporting himself as a studio portrait photographer, marrying Clara E Smith in 1903. His first book of photographs, The Steichen Book was published by Camera Work in 1906. Steichen’s apartment in New York was rented by Steiglitz in 1905 for exhibitions, known as Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession (group), later as the famous “291,” the street address. The gallery, which showed works of all media, gave initial US exhibitions to works of Cézanne, Matisse and Rodin. Steichen returned to Paris in 1906 to paint, connecting with the expatriot artistic community of Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) and her brother Leo Stein (1872-1947). The Steins introduced Steichen to the art world with which they were familiar; his famous photo of August Rodin dates from this time. His Paris reputation convinced Steiglitz to show his work at 291. World War I forced Steichen to returned to the U.S. The war brought to a head differing political and aesthetic views of Stieglitz (a pacifist) and Steichen and the two parted association. Steichen joined the army Signal Corps in 1917 but was moved to the photographic division of the Army Expeditionary Forces Air Service where he was commander of the division. He left the army in 1919 and experimented with photographic processes he learn in the war. Steichen’s wife divorced him in 1921, claiming infidelity. At 43, he married a twenty-eight-year-old actress, Dana Desboro Glover (1894-1957) in 1922, abandoning painting permanently. In 1923 he was appointed Chief of Photography for Condé Nast Publications, producing work for Vanity Fair, Vogue and the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency. He ceased working commercially in 1938 to experiment with new film formats. At the outbreak of World War II, Steichen oversaw naval combat photography. He secured his first photography show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1942, “Road to Victory,” with texts by the poet Carl Sandburg (1878-1967), his sister’s husband. A second show, similarly aimed at the war effort, “Power in the Pacific” was launched in 1945. While the then Museum’s director of photography, Beaumont Newhall, was lecturing at Black Mountain College, Black Mountain, NC, arrangements were made with Steichen to head the department without Newhall’s knowledge. Newhall resigned upon hearing the news. As director of MoMA’s photography department, Steichen mounted numerous exhibitions and purchased photographs for the Museum. His 1955 “The Family of Man” exhibition brought notoriety to the Museum and himself. The show toured throughout the world and the exhibition catalog became a book that remained in separate print for many years afterward. His second wife died in 1957, and at 80 years old, he married a twenty-seven-year-old copywriter, Joanna Taub (1933-2010), in 1960. A 1961 retrospective of Steichen’s work at MoMA concluded with the naming of the department of photography after him. Steichen retired 1962 and was succeeded by John Szarkowski. He died in the Connecticut home he had designed after an extended illness. His wife donated Steichen’s negatives to the George Eastman House, Rochester, NY in 1979. “The Family of Man” show in many ways summed Steichen’s approach to photographic curation. A collection of over 500 photos by disparate photographers worldwide, it focused on the evocative and documentary nature of photography..

    Selected Bibliography

    A Llife in Photography. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday, 1963; The Family of Man, the Greatest Photographic Exhibition of all Time–503 Pictures from 68 Countries. New York: Museum of Modern Art/Maco Magazine Corp., 1955.


    Steichen, Edward. A Llife in Photography. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1963; Sandeen, Eric J. Picturing an Exhibition: the Family of Man and 1950s America. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995; Steichen, Joanna T. Steichen’s Legacy: Photographs, 1895-1973. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000; Brandow, Todd. Edward Steichen: Lives in Photography. London: Thames & Hudson, 2007; [obituaries:] Whitman, Alden. “Edward Steichen Is Dead at 93.” New York Times March 26, 1973 p. 81; “Edward Steichen.” Camera [British journal] 52 (June 1973): 43; Szarkowski, John.. Studio International 185 (May 1973): 243.


    "Steichen, Edward J.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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