The Whitney Presents Edward Steichen in the 1920s and 1930s: A Recent Acquisition, Highlighting a Beneficent Gift from Richard and Jackie Hollander

The Whitney Museum of American Art will mount an exhibition of works by Edward Steichen, the pioneering American photographer best known for his striking portraits from the early-twentieth century. Organized by senior curatorial assistant Carrie Springer, the exhibition includes celebrity portraits and fashion photographs taken for Vanity Fair and Vogue, images shot for advertising campaigns, and a selection of photographs that show the artist’s interest in the natural world. The approximately forty-five works that comprise Edward Steichen in the 1920s and 1930s: A Recent Acquisition were a generous gift to the Whitney from Richard and Jackie Hollander in memory of Ellyn Hollander. The exhibition will be on view from December 6 through February 2014 in the Museum’s Anne & Joel Ehrenkranz Gallery.

Edward Steichen, Marlene Dietrich, (for Vanity Fair), 1931. Gelatin silver print, 10 × 8in. (25.4 × 20.3 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art; gift of Richard and Jackie Hollander in memory of Ellyn Hollander  2012.234

Edward Steichen, Marlene Dietrich, (for Vanity Fair), 1931. Gelatin silver print, 10 × 8in. (25.4 × 20.3 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art; gift of Richard and Jackie Hollander in memory of Ellyn Hollander 2012.234

Edward Steichen (1879–1973) began his career as a painter and a photographer, producing atmospheric and expressive photographs with a deliberate painterly appearance. After serving in World War I as an aerial photographer, he abandoned painting and developed a more modernist approach to photography, focusing on making images for the printed page. After serving as the chief photographer for Condé Nast publications from 1923 to 1937, Steichen resigned from his post and, at the age of fifty-nine, gave up his New York studio.

Edward Steichen, Foxgloves, France, 1925. Gelatin silver print, 9 15/16 × 7 15/16in. (25.2 × 20.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art; gift of Richard and Jackie Hollander in memory of Ellyn Hollander  2012.222

Edward Steichen, Foxgloves, France, 1925. Gelatin silver print, 9 15/16 × 7 15/16in. (25.2 × 20.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art; gift of Richard and Jackie Hollander in memory of Ellyn Hollander 2012.222

During World War II, Steichen volunteered for service, and became director of the U.S. Navy Photographic Institute, in charge of all Navy Combat photography. In 1947, he was appointed director of the Department of Photography at The Museum of Modern Art, where he worked for fifteen years and curated more than forty exhibitions. His most famous show was The Family of Man (1955), a wide-ranging exhibition of photographs by artists from around the world linked together a shared human experience. MoMA also mounted an exhibition of Steichen’s own work in 1961, the year before he retired. In 1963 President John F. Kennedy presented Steichen with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor the government bestows to a civilian.

Edward Steichen, Paul Robeson (as Brutus Jones in The Emperor Jones, for Vanity Fair), 1933. Gelatin silver print, mounted on board, 9 15/16 × 8in. (25.2 × 20.3 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art; gift of Richard and Jackie Hollander in memory of Ellyn Hollander  2012.240

Edward Steichen, Paul Robeson (as Brutus Jones in The Emperor Jones, for Vanity Fair), 1933. Gelatin silver print, mounted on board, 9 15/16 × 8in. (25.2 × 20.3 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art; gift of Richard and Jackie Hollander in memory of Ellyn Hollander 2012.240

This exhibition covers a period when Steichen was the chief photographer for Condé Nast Publications, a position he held from 1923 to 1937. Considered one of the greatest portrait photographers at that time, Steichen was assigned to photograph famous actors, writers, artists, statesmen, and society figures for Vogue and Vanity Fair magazines. His portraits—including iconic images of Winston Churchill, Paul Robeson, Marlene Dietrich, Eugene O’Neill, and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, among others which will be on view— depict a rich slice of cultural history. Continue reading