This Week in History

This Week in History: Modern Art Overachiever

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History seems to be full of those individuals that have crammed the accomplishments of several lifetimes into one. Strangely enough, I am not always a fan of the works they accomplish (Hemingway comes to mind), but am left in awe of a life lived fully.

July 13, 1946, marked the end of a life such as this. Alfred Stieglitz – photographer, modern art promoter, gallery owner, magazine editor, curator, and overall perfectionist – was an overachiever, leaving a profound mark on the art world and on American art in particular.

When I sat down to do this “This Week in History,” I had come across Stieglitz’s name several times before. I figured now was as good a time as any to find out more about the man. An hour and a half later, I found myself firmly engrossed in the man’s story and works. Here are a few facts that I learned…

  • While studying mechanical engineering in Berlin, he by chance found himself in Hermann Wilhelm Vogel’s chemistry class. Turns out Herr Vogel was much more than a chemistry professor, he was also a photography pioneer. From this point onward, Stieglitz found a passion in the newborn art of photography that would stay with him for the rest of his life.
  • In 1893, he married a woman named Emmeline Obermeyer, who was 9 years his junior. This was only the beginning of a trend in Stieglitz’s life: an enchantment with younger women.
  • In 1896, Stieglitz succeeded in uniting New York’s two photography clubs – the Society of Amateur Photographers and the New York Camera Club – into the Camera Club of New York, which is one of the oldest arts organizations in New York City. He also served as editor of the club’s publication, Camera Notes.
  • It could be argued that Stieglitz had some issues with delegating responsibility. He curated exhibitions, ran galleries, served as editor for multiple publications, discovered new artists, ran clubs, and continued work as a photographer, oftentimes simultaneously. The force with which he threw himself into his work would often result in breakdowns and retreats to his home on Lake George for much needed rest.
  • His gallery 291 (previously known as the Little Galleries) was groundbreaking in many ways. He used the space to stage exhibitions of art and photography that were meant to challenge peoples’ notions of and reactions to art as well as force people to recognize photography’s place among other artistic media.
  • Stieglitz served as honorary vice-president of the Armory Show, which in 1913 served as a watershed moment for modern art.
  • In 1916, Stieglitz was shown some work by a young artist. So enamored with the artist’s work, he went ahead and displayed the art in his 291 Gallery without asking permission or even informing the artist. The artist, upon hearing their works were on display, marched into 291 and gave Steiglitz a piece of their mind. The artist in question? Georgia O’Keeffe. The two maintained a passionate relationship for the rest of Stieglitz’s life. Upon his death, O’Keeffe personally handled the task of compiling Stieglitz’s works and correspondence.

So, where can you find Stieglitz’s work? Try these places…

The National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.) One of the most extensive Stieglitz collections, including Georgia O’Keeffe – Hands (1919) seen below.

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Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)

Museum of Modern Art (New York City)

Philadelphia Museum of Art (Philadelphia, PA)

Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, IL) Including A Venetian Canal, 1897 (Seen below). Make sure you also see the extensive Georgia O’Keefe collection.

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Boston Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, MA) including several portraits of Georgia O’Keeffe.

Library of Congress (Washington, DC)

Fisk University (Nashville, TN)

Yale University (New Haven, CT) is home to many of Stieglitz’s manuscripts and correspondence.

George Eastman House (Rochester, NY)

One Response to “This Week in History: Modern Art Overachiever”

  1. Terry Pitts on July 31st, 2009

    Just came across your great website via a friend’s tweet. I’m sorry I didn’t find you earlier. By the way – there are two effs in O’Keeffe.

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