Edward Steichen - PHOTOGRAPHS New York Friday, April 16, 2010 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    From the Collection of Joanna Steichen; to the present Private Collection

  • Literature

    Doubleday, Steichen: A Life in Photography, pl. 67; Steichen, Steichen's Legacy: Photographs 1985-1973, pl. 144

  • Catalogue Essay

    The rare color process Edward Steichen used in Wheelbarrow with Flower Pots reflects his continuous drive to experiment with different printing methods. The base for the image is a platinum print, or platinotype. The inertia of platinum renders the end product permanent from an archival standpoint since the platinum is partially absorbed into the paper. Moreover, the superior level of hand crafting skills necessitated by the process surpasses that of any other printing method at the time the image was produced. However, the platinotype is still limited in the feasible chromatic range, which prompted Steichen to conceive a means to add a richness, density and color without compromising the benefits of using the platinum process. The platinotype, upon completion, was recoated with a ferroprussiate (also known as a cyanotype or blueprint process) sensitizer in order to form a re-registered negative that was then reprinted. The final image benefits from the clarity and permanence of the platinum process, but with the heightened level of depth and realism proffered by the color re-processing. Only a handful of examples of this image made in this process are known to be in existence, including one at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; another in the Joy of Giving Something Inc. collection; one in the collection of Joanna Steichen; and the present Private Collection.
    In addition to the unique nature of the print, it is as vital to assess the relevance and importance of the image. Steichen, at the onset of his career and in keeping with the many artists who had been dabbling in photography at the turn of the last century, was heavily influenced by Pictorialism, with its strong emphasis on figural subject matter and Impressionist feel. In the present image, however, despite the romanticized title, the end result is far more Formalist than Pictorialist, of which Steichen has said, "[It] was certainly as realistic a photograph as I had ever made. Yet, friends remarked that it made them think of one thing or another that had nothing to do with the wheelbarrow and the flower pots. […] I began to reason that, if it was possible to photograph objects in a way that makes them suggest something entirely different, perhaps it would be possible to give abstract meanings to very literal photographs." As such, the work stands at a crux, symbolizing the point in Steichen’s career in which his creative endeavors splintered away from the status quo as he began discovering an alternate mode of photographing.
    The discovery of abstraction led to a period in the early 1920’s in which Steichen began to arrange everyday objects, and, using severe lens angles and dramatic lighting, produced images that accentuated the objects’ structure, surface, texture, and silhouette instead of their intended function. The resulting images were few in number, and their importance stems not only from their scarcity but also from their contribution to a movement that revolutionized the medium. Photographers such as Paul Outerbridge Jr., Edward Weston, Tina Modotti, László Moholy-Nagy, André Kertész and Paul Strand transformed the familiar and simple into a vision that resisted immediate interpretation. It symbolized a shift in perception and mentality that began spreading in ripple effects from one generation of photographers to the next.
    Wheelbarrow with Flower Pots activates a dual consciousness—one that is objectively representational as well as one that is subjectively interpretive. Commenting on the double presence within the image, Carl Sandburg has noted that "one feels Steichen’s long thought and brooding over the fixity of species of life forms." It simultaneously depicts and connotes on an even keel, allowing viewers to relish in two different realms at the same time. Combined with its emphasis on tonality, color and clarity, it embodies the convergence of various pioneering achievements on both technical and cognitive levels, forming one of the most seminal benchmarks in Steichen’s legacy as much as the field of photography


Wheelbarrow with Flower Pots, France

Palladium and ferroprussiate print.
7 5/8 x 9 5/8 in. (19.4 x 24.4).
Titled, dated and annotated 'palladium and ferroprussiate print' in an unidentified hand in pencil on the verso.

$150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for $194,500


16 April 2010
New York