Sensuality Revisited ~ Steichen At The Whitney Museum
By Marina Rybak
I was only waiting for the right moment to highlight one of my inspirational influences – Edward Steichen (1879–1973), a 20th century artist, renowned for his groundbreaking photography. His iconic Chantilly lace-veiled portrait of Gloria Swanson is one of my favorites.
As an award-winning horticulturist with an experience in combat aerial photography Steichen once stated that he was “a painter first, last, and all the time” and photography was “only a side issue”. But it is a fine artist behind the lens, who excelled and captured a worldwide fame.
Steichen’s images reflected a true original, versatile and prolific in his expression. They ranged from the natural world to celebrity portraiture and fashion, unified in a similar poetic grace. A master sensualist, he did not shy away from the advertisement campaigns either, asserting that even Michelangelo wanted to be paid well for his work. He gave this venue his 100% artistic best. The commercial body of work includes lingerie images for Gossard and provocative nudes for Cannon Towels. His whimsical textile prints, designed for Stehli Silks are quite ingenious and still look ahead of the curve.
A gift of Steichen prints to the Whitney Museum of American Art prompted a current exhibition – EDWARD STEICHEN IN THE 1920S AND 1930S: A RECENT ACQUISITION. It is now in progress through February. On view are the works from the period when Steichen became the chief photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair in 1923, a post lasting until 1937.
Replacing eccentric Pictorialist Baron Adolph de Meyer, Steichen changed the course of history, pioneering the “straight” photography. A Modernist in style, he is considered the first “modern” fashion photographer, charting the creative path for the generations to come.