Edward Steichen (1879-1973)
Edward Steichen (1879-1973)

Wind Fire - Thérèse Duncan on the Acropolis, 1921

Edward Steichen (1879-1973)
Wind Fire - Thérèse Duncan on the Acropolis, 1921
palladium print
title and date in pencil, inscribed, 'Please return to Mr. Edward Steichen, Museum of Modern Art' by Grace M. Mayer in red pencil, Condé Nast stamp and printer's notations in pencil/crayon (verso)
image: 9 5/8 x 7 5/8 in. (24.6 x 19.4 cm.)
sheet: 10 x 8 in. (25.5 x 20.4 cm.)
Sotheby's, New York, October 6, 2010, lot 40.
Vanity Fair, June 1923, p. 55.
Carl Sandburg et al., Steichen the Photographer, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1961, p. 43.
Edward Steichen, A Life in Photography: Edward Steichen, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Allen & Co., 1963, pl. 87.
Joanna Steichen, Steichen's Legacy: Photographs 1895-1973, Knopf, New York, 2000, pl. 193 p. 126.
Todd Brandow and William A. Ewing, Edward Steichen: Lives in Photography, FEP Editions/W.W. Norton & Co., New York and London, 2007, p. 121.

Lot Essay

Goat girl caught in the brambles, deerfoot or fox-head, ankles and hair of feeders of the wind, let all the covering burn, let all stopping a naked plunger from plunging naked, let it all burn in this wind fire, let the fire have it in a fast crunch and a flash.
Carl Sandburg

Following the First World War, Edward Steichen, by then a celebrated Pictorialist photographer whose early experimentations with the medium at the turn of the 20th Century helped redefine the strength and appeal of photography, began adopting a more Modernist style. Photographs from the mid-late 1910s to the early 1920s—from close-up of flowers to abstracted still lives—reveal a fondness for clarity and linearity, features that had been previously absent from his earlier works. His newfound fondness for the liberating effects of abstraction is also evident in the current lot, depicting Thérèse Duncan. Born Thérèse Kruger in Germany, the young girl was adopted by famed American dancer Isadora Duncan, becoming a member of Duncan’s terpsichorean octet, les Isadorables. As one of Duncan’s adopted girls and protégées, Thérèse perpetuated her adoptive mother’s dance ideology. 'You were once wild here,' Duncan famously said, 'Don’t let them tame you.' Duncan’s love for free-spirited expressiveness was manifested in her dance, identified by its organic approach whereby each movement was predicated on its predecessor.

In 1921, Duncan and her coterie insisted that Steichen accompany them at the Acropolis and photograph them atop the Parthenon. Ever-inspired by the ancient Greeks, Duncan had often incorporated Grecian elements into her choreography and dress, so the setting was apropos. Steichen’s photographs of Duncan from the photo shoot are somewhat static—perhaps statuary—imbued with a deep sculptural stability. However, it is in Steichen’s image of Thérèse that the fluid liberation for which Duncan was renowned is readily evident. Perched atop a rock, Thérèse curves her body with great agility and grace as her diaphanous dress billows in the wind. Her expression is joyous, her hands are soft and her hair gently blows in the wind. Steichen later recounted how he photographed the nimble dancer mid-motion. In an interview with Time magazine entitled ‘To Catch the Instant’ in 1961, Steichen stated 'Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and the skies that man has inherited, and the wealth and confusion man has created. It is a major force in explaining man to man.' The powerful image of Thérèse, dancing barefoot atop an ancient ruin en plein air perfectly embodies Steichen’s sentiment. The year after the photograph was taken, Thérèse would go on to develop a successful career as a soloist dancer in New York, and Steichen would begin his renowned work for Condé Nast.

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