Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946)
The Steerage, 1907
large format photogravure on Japan tissue, printed 1915–1916
image: 13 1/4 x 10 1/2 in. (33.7 x 26.7 cm.)
sheet: 15 7/8 x 11 in. (40.4 x 28 cm.)
Light Gallery, New York;
acquired from the above by John M. Bransten, San Francisco, 1972;
by descent to the present owner.
Alfred Stieglitz, Camera Work, New York, no. 36, October 1911, pl. IX.
Frank Waldo et al., America & Alfred Stieglitz: A Collective Portrait, The Literary Guild, New York, 1934, pl. XXVII-B.
Dorothy Norman, Alfred Stieglitz: An American Seer, Random House/Aperture, New York, 1960, p. 65.
Beaumont Newhall, The History of Photography: From 1839 to the Present Day, The Museum of Modern Art/George Eastman House, New York, 1964, p. 112.
Doris Bry, Alfred Stieglitz: Photographer, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1965, pl. 8.
Sarah Greenough & Juan Hamilton, Alfred Stieglitz: Photographs & Writings, Bulfinch Press/National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 1999, pl. 18.
Sarah Greenough, Modern Art and America: Alfred Stieglitz and his New York Galleries, Bulfinch Press/National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 2000, p. 140, pl. 30.
Sarah Greenough, Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set, Volume One 1886-1922, Abrams/National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 2002, pp. 190-94, cat. nos. 310-14.
San Francisco, California, The Focus Gallery, Collector's Choice II, December 4, 1973–January 5, 1974.
Sale room notice
Someone with a financial interest in the lot and with knowledge of the reserve may be bidding on the lot.

Lot Essay

Taken while on a trip with his wife Emmeline in 1907, Stieglitz’s photograph, The Steerage, remains iconic to this day. Among the reasons for its lasting importance, the image demonstrates Stieglitz’s crucial departure from his earlier championing of Pictorialism, a departure that arguably helped set the trajectory for much of Modern photography thereafter.

Stieglitz may be photography’s leading 20th century advocate, having edited the luxurious photographic journal Camera Work from 1902 until 1917, and pioneering the exhibition space familiarly known as ‘291’ with Edward Steichen beginning in 1905. Until the time The Steerage was made, all of Stieglitz’s photography related enterprises promoted the propagation of painterly devices that blurred the lines between photography and fine art. The Steerage represents a pivot in Stieglitz’s personal oeuvre towards a new type of photography, more direct and more representative of the fast-paced energy of modern life. The sharp diagonals that slice through the seemingly chaotic scene and converge into a striking and sharp congregation of lines of shapes differs greatly from his earlier Pictorialist works which sought to emulate the soft textures of drawings, prints and watercolors.

Because The Steerage became such a hugely popular image, Stieglitz decided to print the image for an arts magazine that he, Paul Haviland, Marius De Zayas and Agnes E. Meyer published together from 1915-1916, also called ‘291’. Two different paper types were used: Japan vellum for the regular edition of the ‘291’ publication, and a finer, thinner Japan tissue for the deluxe edition. The current lot is of the latter printing. Beyond the 100 subscribers to the regular edition and the eight subscribers to the deluxe edition no further prints were purchased. Dismayed, Stieglitz destroyed most of the remaining prints, adding to the rarity of prints made on Japan tissue paper (Dorothy Norman, Alfred Stieglitz: An American Seer, p. 127).

In Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set, Sarah Greenough locates three other versions of this print in institutional collections: The Art Institute of Chicago, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo.

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