Edward Steichen is perhaps best known for his photography, a medium he began to explore in 1895. He simultaneously painted and produced photographs for more than two decades until 1922 when he made the radical decision to destroy all of his paintings remaining in his possession. As a result, fewer than ninety examples of Steichen's paintings are believed to be extant. Painted in 1907, the year after Steichen returned to Paris, Moonlit Landscape is one of several works depicting the idyllic scenery of Lake George. Alfred Stieglitz, his friend and business partner in The Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, also known as "291," owned a summer home at Lake George and his view inspired Steichen to create numerous dream-like nocturnal landscapes.
Steichen's initial photographs were done in a soft-focus Pictorialist style that closely resembled the paintings he was producing at the time. Based on the tenet that photography should strive to look like painting, Pictorialism derived its aesthetics from the Tonalist movement. Tonalism, in turn, with its roots in the work of George Inness and James Abbott McNeill Whistler, was a distinctly American movement that rejected the sun-dappled images of French Impressionism in favor of a unique style based on the tonal ranges of an understated palette.
A masterpiece of this style, Moonlit Landscape, contains the various elements that epitomize the objectives of the movement: a landscape painting in a subdued, uniform tone--in this case, a soft teal--conveyed with a dream-like quality. Standing at the lake's edge, the four figures anchor the painting towards the bottom; they are rendered deftly but faintly, dwarfed by the enormous weeping willow at right, which is blurred but still distinguishable. Steichen's palette, his subtle, light brushwork and the brooding moon reflected across the lake's surface combine to create an ethereal, otherworldly atmosphere. The artist enhances the richness of mood through his choice of perspective: the moon appears to be level with the viewer with the lake and the figures below. This elevated viewpoint effectively imbues the painting with a mystical aura.