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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection

The Flatiron

The Flatiron
signed and dated 'Steichen MDCCCCV' (lower right)
gum-bichromate over platinum print
Sheet: 19 x 14 3/4 in. (48.3 x 37.5 cm.)
1904, printed 1905
John (grandnephew of the artist) and Liz Steichen (by descent from the artist).
Keith de Lellis, New York (acquired from the above, January 1992).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 2001.
E. Steichen, A Life in Photography, Doubleday, Garden City, 1963 (another print illustrated, pl. 32).
The Collection of Alfred Stieglitz: Fifty Pioneers of Modern Photography, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1978, p. 143 (another print illustrated, pl. 58).
A. Stieglitz, Camera Work: A Pictorial Guide, New York, 1978, p. 39 (another print illustrated, pl. VIII).
The Art of Seeing: Photographs from the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1978 (another print illustrated, pl. 29).
E. Steichen, Steichen: The Master Prints 1895-1914, New York, 1978, p. 135 (another print illustrated, pl. 56).
P. Roberts, Alfred Stieglitz: Camera Work, the Complete Illustrations, Cologne, 1997, p. 278 (another print illustrated).
J. Smith, Edward Steichen: The Early Years, Princeton, 1999, pp. 18-20 (another print illustrated).
Edward Steichen, exh. cat., The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2000, p. 67 (another print illustrated, pl. 26).
E. Steichen, Steichen's Legacy: Photographs 1895-1973, New York, 2000, p.168 (another print illustrated, pl. 143).
Edward Steichen: Lives in Photography, exh. cat., Jeu de Paume, Paris, 2008, p. 144 (another print illustrated, pl. 103).
Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2010 (another print illustrated, pl. 61-63).
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.

Brought to you by

Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

Edward Steichen’s The Flatiron, 1904, undeniably one of the artist’s greatest works, is a triumph of technical darkroom prowess and Pictorial aesthetics. Showcasing the young artist at the height of his powers, the print of The Flatiron offered here is grand in scale, painterly in first impression, definitively photographic in the underlying structure of the piece, moody in atmosphere, and containing a richness of color that is entrancing and mysterious to the naked eye (for a scholarly essay on Steichen’s work of this period, and on The pond–Moonlight, the only true counterpart to the present work, see D. Bethel in Important Photographs from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, auction cat., New York, 14-15 February, 2006).
A giant of the field of photography, Steichen stands alongside Alfred Stieglitz as one of the two most prominent figures who inarguably did more to shape the dialogue around photography as an art form than any others of their era. An artist, educator, publisher, eventually curator for The Museum of Modern Art and overall life-long champion of photography—Steichen remains one of the most engaging artists whose mastery of the high-drama of photographic image-making remains unmistakable and intact today.
The 1890s witnessed the establishment of two movements, one high-brow, the other more populist: the Arts and Crafts movement, as elucidated by William Morris, and the other the efflorescence of the readily available box camera, with Kodak as king. “Entwined with the pictorialist’s ambition to make photographs morally salutary—an Arts and Crafts ideal—was the Aestheticist notion of earning them value and status as art objects” (J. Smith, Edward Steichen: The Early Years, Princeton, 1999, p. 9).
Steichen steps onto this stage in the spring of 1900, a twenty-one year-old artist from Milwaukee—a painter and photographer—making his way to Paris to view Auguste Rodin’s pavilion at the Exposition Universelle. During his stop in New York, he took the opportunity to show Stieglitz his work. By the end of that unplanned meeting, Stieglitz had purchased three platinum prints, and Steichen had left behind a handful of prints to be used by the great “father of American photography” as he saw fit, either for publication or exhibition. A rich collaborative friendship began.
Steichen was an absolute master in the darkroom, and an innovative experimenter. Steichen’s darkroom work falls into four general printing categories: platinum, gum bichromate, direct carbon, and the gorgeous platinum-gum combination technique. The print we offer here falls into this last category. It is a particularly stunning example of what is perhaps his most iconic urban image.
The Flatiron building, with its distinct prow-like shape, was designed by Daniel H. Burnham and had been completed in 1902. Steichen’s image of the building was at once lofty, moody and reminiscent of Japanese woodblock prints, which were in fashion at this time. The print is enhanced by the addition of multiple layers of color on top of the oversized platinum print, and in their coloring, recall James McNeill's Whistler’s Nocturnes.
In this labor-intensive technique, the underlying structure of the image is first printed onto the platinum paper. One or more washes of potassium (or ammonium) bichromate are mixed with gum Arabic and infused with whatever watercolor pigment one chooses which are then brushed directly onto the platinum print and exposed to light. This layering process can be manipulated by hand (or brush) and repeated any number of times, adding a great amount of depth. Steichen was an unrivalled master of this technique. The results “lent itself to painterly evocations of the perceptual continuities between substances and spaces, surface and depth” (quoted in ibid., p. 162; see also for a discussion of print processes used by Steichen at this time).
Given their difficulty of execution, the time involved, as well as costs, these various limitations precluded Steichen from making platinum-gum prints in any great number. At the time of this writing, only four examples of this image as platinum-gum prints are known to exist, three of which form part of the collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is the only known example in private hands. This particular print remained in the family, passing to John and Liz Steichen and later to Paul G. Allen, where it has remained for the last approximately twenty years.

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