We occasionally find ourselves in darker parts of the world, and, as a rule, feel more easy there. What a beautiful hour of the day is that of the twilight when things disappear and seem to melt into each other, and a great beautiful feeling of peace overshadows all. Why not, if we feel this, have this feeling reflect itself in our work?
The Pool—Evening: A Symphony to a Race and to a Soul is well-known as one of Edward Steichen’s earliest significant works, having been made in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the age of twenty years old. It has the distinction of being one of a small group of three works to be purchased by Alfred Stieglitz during their first meeting in New York City in 1900. The print of this image purchased by Stieglitz at that time was eventually gifted by Georgia O’Keeffe to the Art Institute of Chicago, and bears the inscription ‘Steichen’s first “Masterpiece” on the reverse in Stieglitz’s own hand.
The Pool—Evening was made within the vicinity of the family home in Milwaukee. It is one of a small group of studies of the woods at twilight made around the same time. They are reproduced in Naef 451 and 452, A Life in Photographs, plates 9-12 and Longwell, The Master Prints, plates 3, 5, 6, and 7. In Camera Work, Charles H. Caffin elucidates on this attraction to those wooded areas, in 'The Art of Eduard J. Steichen' (New York, no. 30, April 1910, p. 34) as follows:
Then Whistler, whose influence few if any moderns have escaped … affected this young man profoundly. He found in the great artist not only technical example but a kinship of spirit. Steichen himself is somewhat arrogantly intolerant of the commonplace; rapturously devout toward that which is choicely beautiful; but, first and foremost, he was keenly sensitive to the master’s abstraction of spirit, to his preference for the expression of the idea. So Steichen sought it where for a while, in the seventies, Whistler sought it, and where we ordinary folk who are not painters seek for it, especially when we are young, namely, in the twilight and the night. It is in the penumbra, between the clear visibility of things and their total extinction in darkness, when the concreteness of appearances becomes merged in half-realized, half-baffled vision, that spirit seems to disengage itself from matter and to envelope it with a mystery of soul-suggestion.
'The Pool—Evening was, in fact, a picture of a puddle of water with mud clots protruding,' Steichen wrote in his autobiography. 'These [woods] became my stamping grounds,' he continues, 'especially during autumn, winter, and early spring. They were particularly appealing on gray or misty days, or very late in the afternoon and at twilight. Under those conditions, the woods had moods, and the moods aroused emotional reactions that I tried to render in photographs … The haunting, elusive quality of twilight excited in me an emotion that I felt compelled to evoke in the images I was making. Emotional reaction to the qualities of places, things, and people became the principal goal in my photography' (A Life in Photography, unpaginated, Chapter 1).
The print on offer here comes originally from a well-known album of photographs, drawings, and gravures given by the artist to the photographer Gertrude Gertrude Käsebier at the turn of the last century. This album was sold by Sotheby’s, as noted, in 1976. Weston Naef surmises that Steichen gave this album to Käsebier in August, 1901. They had first met in Paris in 1900. See Lot 9 of this catalogue for Käsebier’s stunning portrait of the young artist in platinum.
Only three other prints of The Pool—Evening are known; they are each platinum and reside in public institutions: a print in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, donated as a gift of Alfred Stieglitz in 1933; a print in the collection of the Royal Photographic Society, a gift of Frederick Evans in 1937; and a print in the Art Institute of Chicago, a gift of Georgia O’Keeffe in 1949.