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The May Pole (The Empire State Building), 1932

The May Pole (The Empire State Building), 1932
gelatin silver contact print
numbered '1345-2I' (in the negative); stamped photographer's and Condé Nast copyright credits, dated 'July 1933' and annotated in ink in press stamp, dated 'VF 1935' in ink and variously numbered, annotated in pencil (verso)
image/sheet: 10 x 8 in. (25.5 x 20.4 cm.)
The Condé Nast Archive;
Sotheby's, New York, April 23, 2003, lot 146;
acquired from the above sale by the present owner.
Vanity Fair, July 1933, p. 36 (this print).
Edward Steichen, A Life in Photography, Doubleday & Company, Inc./ The Museum of Modern Art, Garden City, New York, 1963, pl. 213.
John Szarkowski, Photography Until Now, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1989, p. 192.
Joanna Steichen, Steichen's Legacy: Photographs, 1895-1973, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2000, pl. 198.
Special notice
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

Lot Essay

A year after its construction, Vanity Fair commissioned Edward Steichen to photograph the imposing edifice of the Empire State Building. Steichen had been defining the magazine’s vision since 1923 (a tenure that would last until 1937) with his crisp elegance, earning him the title of being among the world’s greatest living portrait photographers by Vanity Fair’s editor Frank Crowninshield. The challenge with photographing the Empire State Building, the artist knew, was translating the awe-inspiring monumentality of the building onto the flat surface of a photograph. Ingeniously, Steichen chose to layer two separate negatives into a single frame, thereby imbuing the resulting image with a powerful sense of three-dimensionality and vitality. 'I conceived of the building as a Maypole and made the double exposure to suggest the swirl of a Maypole dance,' he later explained.

Eighty years later, Steichen’s image of the Empire State Building still captures the breathless beauty, energy and dynamism of the building. It is not surprising, therefore, that when the magazine published the image in July of 1933 it proudly announced that the image had been selected to be presented as a mural for Chicago’s World’s Fair, whose motto, accordingly, was 'Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Adapts.'

The present lot is the actual print used for reproduction in the 1933 issue of Vanity Fair, which was the first time this iconic image was seen.

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