Re: Steichen image in April's 'Vanity Fair'
Thanks phritz, this info of course is consistent with the knowledge I
have (and have shared here) on the subject, but interesting to see it
echoed. I was aware that the auction catalog identified the print as
gum over platinum, per the Metropolitan's analysis, but I hadn't
seen all the added material, that's pretty interesting. Thanks,
On Mar 10, 2009, at 2:54 PM, phritz phantom wrote:
just stumbled upon this on apug. a used called "reellis67 <http://
www.apug.org/forums/members/reellis67/>" posted the text on "pond -
moonlight" from the auction catalog.
it mostly has info that has been mentioned here before, but maybe
it's an interesting read for someone...and since emails aren't paid
for by size:
excerpt from the catalogue notes:
..Edward Steichen’s ‘The Pond—Moonlight’ ranks among the
photographer’s greatest achievements in Pictorial photography. An
aesthetic and technical tour-de-force, the print of ‘The Pond—
Moonlight’ offered here shows Steichen operating at the very peak
of his early powers. The painterly qualities of this masterpiece,
combined with its photographic realism, its large scale, and its
supreme technical virtuosity, place it alongside Steichen’s
magnificent study of the Flatiron Building as the photographer’s
most ambitious artistic statement; together, they are the
culmination of the movement known as Pictorialism. Operatic in
their intention and in their effect, the ‘Pond’ and ‘Flatiron’
series are the young Edward Steichen’s bravura confirmation of the
validity of the photographic medium. As one critic wrote in The
Photogram of 1905, there was an answer to ‘that addled question in
the short catechism of the camera: “Is photography an art?” with
all its bungling answers in extenso. “Let the answer be: Yes: it is
Like the series of Steichen’s ‘Flatiron Building’ now in The
Metropolitan Museum of Art, only three examples of ‘The Pond—
Moonlight’ are known, and as in the ‘Flatiron’ series, each in this
trio is different in tone, in atmosphere, and in subtle detail. In
addition to the present photograph, there is the print of ‘The
Pond’ that Stieglitz gave the Metropolitan in 1933; and the print
that Steichen himself gave to The Museum of Modern Art in 1967.
Although created from the same negative, the three prints are the
results of different photographic processes and are a testament to
Steichen’s artistic goals and to his finely honed abilities as a
printer. Multiple-process printing, on this large scale, was
practiced by no one as it was practiced by Steichen.
The negative for ‘The Pond—Moonlight’ was made in the wetlands
around Marmaroneck, New York, on Long Island Sound, near the home
of Charles H. Caffin (1854 – 1918), the English-born art critic who
had championed Steichen’s work in his volume Photography as a Fine
Art (see Lot 5). After the birth of their first daughter in July of
1904, the Steichens sought refuge from the stifling heat of their
top-floor Manhattan apartment, gratefully accepting an invitation
to spend August with Caffin and his wife Caroline. The August visit
stretched into September when Steichen suffered a bout of typhoid
and was hospitalized for three weeks. A gelatin silver print of a
closely-related image, entitled ‘Autumn,’ now in the J. Paul Getty
Museum, is inscribed ‘Autumn, Marmaroneck, N. Y., 1904,’ by Alfred
Stieglitz on the reverse, a likely indication that the present
photograph was made in September, during the latter part of the
Steichens’ stay (The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal, Volume 16, 1988,
The woods at dusk, or in moonlight, was one of Steichen’s favorite
subjects, one to which he returned time and again in the years
before the first World War, in paintings as well as photographs.
Although few of his paintings survive—he destroyed most of them in
his notorious bonfire in Voulangis after the war—their titles echo
his obsession with the effects of glimmering light in nocturnal
settings: ‘The Road to the Lake—Moonlight,’ ‘The Moonlight Promenade
—The Sea,’ ‘Balcony, Nocturne, Lake George,’ and ‘Moonlit
Landscape,’ among others. A rare surviving painting from that
period, now in the Whitney Museum of Art, shows parallel rows of
trees in an unidentified glen, the moon rising to the top of the
composition, its light reflected in the water in the foreground
(reproduced in Dennis Longwell, Steichen: The Master Prints, New
York, 1978, p. 17). ‘The romantic and mysterious quality of
moonlight, the lyric aspect of nature made the strongest appeal to
me’ Steichen wrote in his autobiography. ‘Most of the paintings—
watercolors—that I did in my early years were of moonlight
subjects. . . the real magician was light itself—mysterious and
ever-changing light with its accompanying shadows rich and full of
mystery’ (A Life in Photography, unpaginated, Chapter 1).
The influences of not only individual painters but also whole
artistic movements on this period of Steichen’s work have been
variously discussed in the literature: Dennis Longwell, in his
Steichen: The Master Prints, 1914-1985, The Symbolist Period (op.
cit.) and Lucy Bowditch, in ‘Steichen and Maeterlinck: The
Symbolist Connection’ (History of Photography, Volume 17, Number 4,
Winter 1999), for instance, are among many who tie Steichen to the
international Symbolist movement. Christian Peterson, in ‘The
Photograph Beautiful: 1895 – 1915’ (History of Photography, Volume
16, Number 3, Autumn 1992), states the case for the Arts & Crafts
movement, with its attendant influences of Whistler, Arthur Wesley
Dow, and Japonisme. And a number of scholars refer to Steichen’s
relationship with Scandinavian painters such as Fritz Thaulow,
especially Melinda Boyd Parsons, in her article ‘”Moonlight on
Darkening Ways”: Concepts of Nature and the Artist in Edward and
Lilian Steichen’s Socialism’ (American Art, Volume 11, Number 1,
Spring 1997). That a host of authors have found sources for
Steichen’s early work in this variety of international styles
testifies to Steichen’s talents as a visual magpie, seizing and
synthesizing from the cultural plethora around him, not only in his
Pictorialist phase, but throughout his career. And, as always with
Steichen, the total, as in ‘The Pond—Moonlight,’ was equal to far
more than the sum of the parts.
Steichen admitted that, following in the traditions of the day, he
initially saw his woodland photographs as preliminary studies for
moonlight paintings. ‘I made realistic notes of the actual night
colors on the spot,’ he wrote about one Milwaukee twilight
photography session, ‘describing the colors I saw in terms of a
mixture of pigments to be used in the painting’ (A Life in
Photography, unpaginated, Chapter 1). If a Steichen letter from
1903 is any indication, the photographer vividly recorded in his
mind the colors of a setting, even if planning a photograph: ‘We
had a moon night before last—the like of which I had never seen
before—the whole landscape was still bathed in a warm twilight glow—
the color was simply marvelous in its dark bright—and into this
rose a large disc of brilliant golden orange in a warm purplish sky—
Gold. . . ’ (quoted in Longwell, op. cit., p. 94). The ability of
oil on canvas to capture the colors of a night setting, as well as
its shadowy forms, was for Steichen one of painting’s most valuable
aspects. Steichen was from an early date preoccupied with color in
photography, and he was one of the first to jump on the bandwagon,
in 1907, when the Lumière brothers devised the first practical
photographic color process, the autochrome. Indeed, as aficionados
of Camera Work know, so committed was Steichen to capturing the
subtle colorations of certain moonlit scenes that he resorted to
personally hand-tinting every copy of two photogravure plates
issued in Camera Work: the ‘Road into the Valley—Moonrise’ in the
Steichen Supplement of 1906, and ‘Pastoral—Moonlight’ in Camera
Work Number 19, from 1907.
It was the malleable gum-bichromate process, and his consummate
mastery of it, that allowed Steichen to realize to the fullest his
vision of the moonlit landscape. He was conversant in the basics of
gum-bichromate before he left for Paris in 1900--‘I had read an
article by Robert Demachy, a famous French photographer, about a
process that he used extensively and referred to as a gum-
bichromate process,’ he wrote in his autobiography (A Life in
Photography, unpaginated, Chapter 1)—and he had experimented with
gum in his Milwaukee images. His exposure to the European masters
of the process, however, as well as the photographs he saw in the
European salons, broadened his outlook and showed him the
possibilities of what could be achieved in terms of multiple
printing on a large scale.
His best introduction to the expressive uses of gum-bichromate
would have been Robert Demachy (1859 – 1936), the French gentleman
photographer who was married to a relative of Franklin Delano
Roosevelt and was a fluent English speaker and writer. Demachy
practiced the gum-bichromate process almost exclusively from the
1890s until 1906, when he took up the Rawlins oil process. His
writings on gum-bichromate, in both French and English, were
authoritative, and he befriended Steichen during the young
photographer’s first sojourn in Paris. The photographer who brought
both scale and multiple colors to the process was Heinrich Kühn
(1866 – 1944) (see Lots 38 – 40), the leader of the Viennese
secession and like Demachy, a contributor to Camera Work. Steichen
met him in Munich in 1901, and could not have failed to have been
impressed with the vivid colors achieved by Kühn through multiple,
layered printings from different negatives. The works of these and
other European practitioners of gum-bichromate, alone or combined
with other processes, were seen and studied by Steichen at the
salons on the Continent and in London.
In France, Steichen began working in gum-bichromate and combination
processes with a vengeance. Always ready to take up a challenge, he
rose to the process’s technical demands and used its painterly
qualities to prove that certain types of photographs could be
worked over and multiply-printed until they were indistinguishable
from etchings or other traditional fine prints. His duping of the
jury of the 1902 Champs de Mars salon is told over and over again
in the Steichen narrative: how he submitted, and had accepted, ten
gum-bichromate prints to the graphic arts category, only to have
them rejected once the committee discovered they were photographs.
This early grand-standing aside, he worked very seriously, and with
great power, in the combination processes, producing a series of
Pictorial masterworks, of which the present image is one.
The print offered here is a multiple gum-bichromate print over
platinum, and its depth and color come from skillful layers of
manipulated, sequential printing, in different tones, from one
negative. The initial ‘base’ of the image would have been a
platinum print, over which was printed one or more ‘layers’ of gum-
bichromate. Each of these subsequent layers could not only be a
different tone, but could also be altered on its surface with a
brush or sponge during development, allowing for manual control of
the shapes and shadows. In large format especially, the technique
was elaborate, tricky, and laborious. Although Steichen rarely
discussed his printing in detail, there is an extant, undated
letter he sent to Stieglitz regarding his large, multiple-process
prints, which reads in part:
‘. . . [the prints] represent two months hard work to say nothing
of the expense which my bills testify to. Big plates mean more
failures and cost like h__l. I wish you could see the new things—
They will be hard to hang—One in particular . . . ‘The Big
Cloud’ . . . it’s a whopper—and will compel attention—although I’m
afraid they may refuse to hang it— d__m if they do. Another one
Moonrise in three printings: first printing, grey black plat[itnum]—
2nd, plain blue print (secret), 3rd, greenish gum. It is so very
dark I must take the glass off because it acts too much like a
mirror. I hope they will handle it carefully . . .’ (quoted in
Longwell, op. cit., p. 17).
As these large multiple-process prints were each created by a
process not dissimilar from the creation of fine cuisine, with
special touches known only to the chef, it is difficult to single
out the ingredients of Steichen’s prints: thus it is hard to know
if the description above applies perfectly to one of the three
extant ‘Pond’ images, or to another print of the image now lost.
The print offered here has been analyzed recently by the
conservation department at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and it
is described by them as a multiple gum-bichromate print over
platinum. The print given to the Metropolitan by Stieglitz, also
analyzed recently by their conservation department, appears to be a
platinum print with applied Prussian blue and calcium-based white
pigment, likely hand-applied. The third print, in the collection of
The Museum of Modern Art, is catalogued as a platinum and ferro-
prussiate print. Each is different, and each is striking in its own
way. As the photographer Joan Harrison, herself an accomplished
printer in alternative photographic processes, has succinctly
stated, ‘Gum-Bichromate is the most individual of all photographic
printing processes both in method and result. The hand of the
artist is evident in every print and the medium is unique in that
its malleability allows for the development of a personal colour
palette suited to nearly any taste or sensibility’ (‘Colour in the
Gum-Bichromate Process,’ in History of Photography, Volume 17,
Number 4, Winter 1993, p. 375).
Steichen’s large-format multiple process prints presented him with
what must have been the most complex and challenging darkroom
experiences he had known in his career to that point, and probably
thereafter. But these multiple-process prints were difficult,
costly, and time-consuming, and these limitations precluded their
production in any quantity. That, coupled with the deterioration or
loss of most of the photographer’s early Pictorial negatives during
the first World War, make original Steichen multiple-process prints
among the rarest works in his entire oeuvre.
The print of ‘The Pond—Moonlight’ offered here was purchased from
Alfred Stieglitz, presumably acting as Steichen’s agent, by John
Aspinwall, in 1906. Aspinwall, a friend and supporter of Stieglitz
and an amateur photographer himself, served as president of the
Camera Club of New York in the early years of the last century. The
date on Aspinwall’s bill of sale, 3 April 1906, may indicate that
the print he purchased was the actual print of the image included
in a major retrospective of Steichen’s work at the Photo-Secession
Galleries from the 9th to the 24th of March 1906. The original bill
of sale to Aspinwall, in Stieglitz’s hand, which at one time
accompanied the print, is now lost. The print was also at one time
accompanied by a copy of a letter from Steichen to Mrs. John
Aspinwall Wagner, a descendant of the original owner, stating that
the relatively high price of $75.00, paid in 1906, indicated that
Steichen and Stieglitz thought the print was an especially fine
Diana Bloomfield schrieb:
I just had a chance to see this image, and I can believe he might
have gotten this with just those 2 layers-- pt/pd and cyanotype.
Of course, it would be nice to see it in real life. As mentioned,
we don't really know how much this reproduction has been "punched
up" by the magazine editors.
I've done a lot of pt/pd and cyanotype, though with pinhole
negatives only, and while I've never achieved this deep orange-y
flesh tone, I have been consistently surprised by how the flesh
tones in portraits do seem to subtly change color and stand out
more, even when the cyan layer, at first glance, doesn't look like
it's had any effect at all on the flesh tones. Of course, the
cyanotype, done after the pt/pd layer, can be controlled somewhat
via exposure and emulsion, and the cyan color will obviously tend
to adhere more to the thinner parts of the negative (more
noticeable, of course, with a pinhole negative than a regular lens-
But I think it was Mark who mentioned Sam Wang's cyanotype over pt/
pd yesterday, and I remember seeing one of Sam's portraits done
like that, and thinking that he must have also used gum-- it was
incredible-- and really seemed like it had so many more colors in
it than just the pt/pd and cyanotype-- very rich-- but I
remember asking him about it, and he'd used only the pt/pd and
Also, I can imagine that different papers available to Steichen
(from what we have now) might also make a difference. And what
about the chemicals themselves. Are they exactly the same as what
we now use?
But who knows. Maybe he did add gum, or some hand-tinting. I'd
love to see the real thing. I'm guessing the real image isn't
quite as rich and dark as this reproduction, but that's just a guess.
On Mar 10, 2009, at 10:16 AM, phritz phantom wrote:
all of that sounds really interesting, thanks for the details,
is there some more info to be found on that platinum/palladium
and ferroprussiate printing technique?
i really have a hard time understanding how steichen got these
kind of colours (even when the colours are a little off in the
online pic) with just two layers. i'd expect the pd/pt to be a
brownish colour and the cyano blue.
they only way i can imagine getting these kind of colours is
through multple layers, each one individually toned. maybe a
blackish-brown one, a dark blue one and a third cyano somehow
toned to an orange.
and did he take this pic before the invention of colour process
films? and with a single neg or with colour separations?
Christina Z. Anderson schrieb:
aaaaHA. Infinitely clearer to me as well and I thank you for
your very clear and pointed explanation!
When I saw the image online I couldn't figure out the connection
between the pond image as well and NOW I understand.
As an aside, having done lots of pd/cyano, I am very surprised
that he was able to derive that flesh color from that process.
I would not be at all surprised that there is a gum layer
lurking there as well. Unless pt/pd oranges over time and/or
the paper has oranged and/or the scan is WAY more color
saturated as Tom Hawkins I think said. But read further and I'll
tell you why I wonder if this is not the case.
Back to the Pond image. Of three articles I have on it the
ArtNews says as I have said it is a hand-colored BW image. When
I initially read this I did not believe it was correct. BUT, to
a novice, gum over platinum could certainly be considered a
"hand colored bw image" even if incorrect. This is why I say
auctioneers/those in the arts need to get their processes
straight, but it really stems from people being ignorant of alt,
which none of us on this list are.
All sources say there are only 3 of this image. All sources
agree one was sold off, one remains in the Met, and one is at
the Moma. I don't know the buyer of the $2.9 million one, though.
The Photo On Campus article is really a neat one because they
have gone to recreate where the image was taken. This magazine
referred to it as "a richly layered gum bichromate print."
Again, a layer of pd lurking in there is not too far off the
description but enough for us altees. Believe me, I am not
justifying this error, just acknowledging how it can happen,
especially knowing how few photographers even understand what a
gum print even is.
But my other source is the Steichen book (Lowell 1978) wherein
Steichen is writing to Stieglitz and says ,"...Another one [-]
Moonrise [Mamaroneck, New York, 1904, pl. 35] in three
printings: first printing, grey black plat[inum]--2nd, plain
blue print [cyanotype] (secret)[-] 3rd, greenish gum. It is so
very dark I must take the glass off because it acts too much
like a mirror. I hope they will handle it carefully--of course
the varnish will protect it some--"
Source Leaf 54, Alfred Stieglitz Archive, Collection of American
Literature, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale
University, New Haven, Conn.
I have no idea what "secret" refers to.
This description refers to the "cyano/plati one at the Moma. It
is pictured in color in the book. In the back of the book it
describes the plate as a platinum and ferroprussiate print! So
either they, too, left out the gum layer, or the three process
print Steichen refers to is NOT the one in the Moma and refers
to one of the two others. BUT both of the images I have of the
print that sold for $2.9 million are the same print, looking
very much like a layer of yellow and blue gum over a pt print.
Much more glowing than the cyano/pd in the Moma.
End of story, not really important, just thought it'd be of
interest to someone out there, and having NOTHING to do with our
cigar boy. Can't wait for my Vanity Fair to come in the mail
Christina Z. Anderson
----- Original Message ----- From: "Katharine Thayer"
Sent: Monday, March 09, 2009 9:29 PM
Subject: Re: Steichen image in April's 'Vanity Fair'
Actually, the analysis, on the two that were owned by the
Metropolitan, one of which was auctioned for $2.9 million, was done
by the conservation department at the Metropolitan (who do have
access to electron microscopes and all the best techniques for
determining what a print is made of). By whose assertion is it
that the print that sold for $2.9 million was gum over
the Metropolitan's assertion, by the experts who spoke on the
about the sale at the time, and by the assertion of the auction
catalog itself. I assume that the analysis of the cyanotype over
platinum owned by MOMA was done by MOMA. ArtNews is just simply
wrong, as was the person who claimed on this thread that the print
that sold for $2.9 million was a straight gum print; it's just
But that wasn't the question I was trying to answer today; I've
those facts for several years already. What I was trying to
determine today was what was the image that was reproduced on
of Vanity Fair? Your comment made it seem like you were saying
the image in Vanity Fair was the same image as the one that sold
$2.9 million, but maybe one of the other prints? That's what
make sense to me (besides the assertion that the one that sold for
$2.9 million was a gum print, which simply isn't accurate). Why
would one of those prints be in a show at a gallery? I can imagine
one of them showing up at Christy's or Sotheby's, or in a museum
retrospective, but why at Greenberg; it didn't make sense to me.
And now Tom has solved the mystery; it wasn't that image at all but
the one I found online, and whatever you were talking about didn't
have any particular connection to the thread. Okay, that makes
to me, and that's all I was looking for, was some sense.
On Mar 9, 2009, at 6:07 PM, Katharine Thayer wrote:
Well, okay, since no one would answer my question I spent the
afternoon out in a roaring sleetstorm looking for a copy of
the April Vanity Fair to answer the question for myself. I
went to the library and all the stores that might carry
general interest magazines in my nearest big town, and no one
has the April issue available yet.
I was curious which print of Steichen's was reproduced, in an
effort to make sense of the statement made earlier in this
thread: ""There was a good article on this image in Photo On
Campus about the one that sold for 3 million. That was a gum
print, but it says there were three prints of this negative
made so I wonder how the third one was made."
For the record, the print that sold for $2.9 million was not a
gum print, but gum over platinum. There were two other prints
made from the same negative; one of them, which Stieglitz gave
to the Metropolitan in 1933 and is still in the Met's
collection AFAIK, has been analyzed and is believed to be hand-
applied colori over platinum. The third, which is owned by
MOMA, is platinum and cyanotype.
I found an image online from the current Steichen exhibition
at Greenberg that we can actually all look at so we can all be
on the same page; I don't know if this is the one that was
reproduced in Vanity Fair, and I also don't know why it seems
to be on a gay website. The point is that it's an example of
cyanotype over palladium, which Tom was asking about, and I
think it's absolutely stunning. I have a number of Steichen
monographs but I've never seen this particular image before.
I wouldn't have believed it possible to get such warm flesh
tones simply from a combination of palladium and cyanotype,
but I'm told by someone who used to print with this
combination that this is typical of the combination of
processes. This is the first time ever that I have wished to
print in any process than gum; I really love the way this looks.
On Mar 9, 2009, at 11:45 AM, Katharine Thayer wrote:
I don't have Vanity Fair in front of me and it would take
some traveling to find one; can someone enlighten me as to
which print is reproduced in the magazine? Thanks,
On Mar 7, 2009, at 8:21 PM, Tom Hawkins wrote:
I know it’s only a magazine reproduction, but...
In the April issue of Vanity Fair (p.61) there’s an image
from a Steichen exhibit currently at Greenberg in NYC.
It’s described as a “palladium ferroprusiate print.”
Am I correct in assuming that’s a gum over palladium?