Alfred Stieglitz - Photographs New York Wednesday, October 1, 2014 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Gifted from the Collection of Walter E. Owen to The Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, New York
    The Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland
    Christie's, New York, 'Photographic Masterworks' 23 April 1990, lot 21

  • Literature

    Stieglitz, 291, September-October 1915
    Bulfinch Press, Alfred Stieglitz, pl. 18
    Camera Work, October 1911, Number 36
    Green, A Critical History of American Photography, p. 195
    Greenough, Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set, Volume One, cat. nos. 310-314
    Margolis, Alfred Stieglitz, Camera Work: A Pictorial Guide, p. 100
    Norman, Alfred Stieglitz: An American Seer, pl. XVI
    Taschen, Photo Icons: The Story Behind the Pictures, Volume 1, p. 135
    The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Alfred Stieglitz: Photographer, pl. 8
    Whelan, Alfred Stieglitz: A Biography, Photography, Georgia O'Keeffe, and the Rise of the Avant-Garde in America, n.p.
    ArtForum, 'On the Invention of Photographic Meaning', January 1975, p. 36

  • Catalogue Essay

    Alfred Stieglitz’s The Steerage, taken in 1907, stands at a major professional crossroad whose outcome had a deep impact on the artist. As the patriarch of American Photography at the turn of the last century, Stieglitz had initially extolled the tenets of Pictorialism, the art movement that championed the simulation of painterly effects in photography. As a result, many of the photographs taken by the leading photographers at the time, from Edward Steichen to Gertrude Käsebier, were marked by gentle lighting, soft lenses, and deeply atmospheric staged compositions that were strongly Impressionistic. The Steerage, however, became Stieglitz’s fulcrum pivoting away from Pictorialism.

    Taken during a trip to Europe with his wife, Stieglitz captured the un-staged scene as he wondered away from the posh, cushy folds of First Class and meandered into the steerage. “I saw shapes related to each other,” Stieglitz later remembered. Accordingly, the image is Modernist in its composition: a strong diagonal line slices through the frame, causing a jarring bifurcation of the scenes unfolding. Also gone is the central focal point that typified most Pictorialist photographs. The Steerage is marked by the formerly-repudiated lynchpins of photography: clarity, linearity and tonality. After revisiting the image a number of years following the negative date, Stieglitz reproduced the image on a number of occasions and lauded its significance as his first Modernist masterpiece.


The Steerage

Large format photogravure on Japanese tissue, printed 1915-1916.
13 1/8 x 10 3/8 in. (33.3 x 26.4 cm)
Signed, titled and dated in pencil on the overmat; printed credit, title and medium on a Brooklyn Institute of Arts & Sciences collection label affixed to the reverse of the mount.

$70,000 - 90,000 

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New York Auction 1 October