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  • Video

    EDWARD STEICHEN 'Richard Strauss, New York', 1904

    "I think it may be said of Steichen that, perhaps more than anyone else of the time, he smoothed the way between 19th century photography and 20th century photography, through his love of painting and process." The puzzle of Steichen’s process; full of technical enigma, free of the confines of conventional printing and a velvety dream brought to life is here entwined with a subject infused with raw emotion creating a profoundly moving experience, so much so, that the flesh of Strauss becomes a warm body that we begin to know. Lou Proud, head of Photographs in London, introduces Edward Steichen's portrait of the composer Richard Strauss, a highlight from the Photographs Auction on 7 November 2013.

  • Provenance

    Dietmar Siegert Collection, Munich

  • Catalogue Essay

    Edward Steichen perhaps unlike any other photographer of his time, profoundly shaped twentieth century photography with his unique artistry, vision, aesthetic and sublime mastery of the technical alchemy of photography.
    Steichen was a painter who successfully used the camera as a tool to explore and develop his art. His emotional self is the key to understanding his works, he was inventive and analytical but above all he had a passionate connection to his subject matter. His extraordinary gift was that he could poignantly reveal the inherent emotion and beauty that existed in any form; animate or otherwise.
    At the time this portrait of the German Composer and Conductor Richard Strauss was taken, the style of photography was very much pictorial. The European and American painters such as Whistler, Corot and the French Barbizon School held tremendous wonder and fascination for art lovers such as Steichen, they were admired for their style which displayed sentiment but was by no means sentimental. Tonalism was of great concern during this period both in painting and photography – it referred to the practice of having one dominant tone present and also having the elements in the image relating to each other inside this kind of sheet or wrap of hue. Photography which naturally employed the use of chiaroscuro was an easy member of this trend and for Steichen his employment of such a style came initially from instinct more than anything, but where he was a definite and determined advocate of this movement was in the Pictorialist’s belief that photography should be recognized as fine art.
    Strauss visited the United States for the first time in the Spring of 1904. He came to New York to conduct the premier of Symphonia domestica, an orchestral work which caused a rumble amongst critics and classical music devotees. Writing about one’s own love-life was not an unexplored subject among composers; Schumann in his Fourth Symphony (1841-51) discussed his difficult courtship with Clara, Brahms in his First Symphony (1876) had composed out his problems with his female friendship, Tchaikovsky in his Pathétique (1893) had recreated his homosexual passion for his nephew “Bob” Davidov. However Strauss presented a work which was not classically romantic or erotic but one of blatant life reality; screaming children, fights between husband and wife and a rather visceral passage reflecting their love making, a brave departure for the romantic genius who had previously brought us Salmoe, Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier.
    Steichen had photographed many great artists and literary figures and was extremely proud of these portraits. Artists were often photographed in the company of their creations or surrounded by clues to their talent. The portrait of Strauss is somewhat unusual as this is not how Steichen chooses to arrange him; in the variant of the image shown in this lot, Strauss is seen getting up from his chair with flowers directly in the foreground receiving equal billing to the sitter perhaps as a symbol of his reputation for being a romantic. However, Strauss in the current portrait looms from the darkness with strong high-lights around his head and eyes making him look directly in to our souls with an unnerving intensity. He seems unapproachable, unavailable, god-like and enigmatic all at once. There is an uncanny feeling that Steichen has managed to somehow represent the sensation that lurks at the very bottom of Strauss’s complex music. Steichen undergoes a complete giving over of his own self in order to fall in to the creation of the ultimate essence of another. The puzzle of Steichen’s process; full of technical enigma, free of the confines of conventional printing and a velvety dream brought to life is here entwined with a subject infused with raw emotion creating a profoundly moving experience, so much so, that the flesh of Strauss becomes a warm body that we begin to know.

101

Richard Strauss, New York

1904
Gum pigment print.
33.5 x 21.7 cm (13 1/4 x 8 1/2 in)
Signed, dated and copyright in yellow crayon on the recto.

Estimate
£80,000 - 120,000 

Sold for £92,500

Contact Specialist
Lou Proud
Head of Sale
[email protected]
+ 44 207 318 4018

Photographs

London 7 November 2013 4pm