In 1910 Coburn traveled to the American west exploring its vast landscape including the Grand Canyon. He was quickly enamored with its beauty, magnificent vistas and awe inspiring heights. He photographed there, recording the depths of the canyons and dramatic peaks. When he returned to New York in 1912, he brought this new found appreciation for the wonders of nature and saw in the evolving city a kindred spirit. He marveled at the changes taking place overnight in the city as skyscrapers punctuated its skyline. 'The House of a Thousand Windows' made in 1912 is one of his most successful expressions of this dizzying metamorphosis and as well as being one of the earliest modernist views of New York, predating Strand, Sheeler and Stieglitz and emulating his Cubist contemporaries. The work also precedes the 1913 Armory Show, where Coburn was exposed to European modernism on a grand scale and which certainly played a role in the abstraction found in his later work.
As Coburn himself described in the catalogue for his 1913 exhibition at the Goupil Gallery in London, 'No one can deny the verity of the camera, yet surely 'The Thousand Windows' is almost as fantastic in its perspective as a Cubist fantasy; but should not the camera artist break away from the worn-out conventions, that even in its comparatively short existence have begun to cramp and restrict his medium, and claim the freedom of expression which any art must have to be alive?' We can view 'The House of a Thousand Windows' as an expression of Coburn's embrace of Cubism and a step toward abstraction.
This print is originally from the collection of Coburn's friend the American Cubist painter, Max Weber, who supported the artistic possibilities of photography. The early influences of Arthur Dow, Clarence White and Stieglitz, combined with his appreciation for the movements of Cubism and Futurism, result in an altogether unique work. In his book Essays on Art, Weber stated 'To express moods that can stir the emotion from within, as does music, the plastic artist, when he conceives of energetic rhythmic interlaced forms or units, should be much more moved than even by music. It is like cementing a thought, or arresting a perfect moment of time, or like giving body to space, or solidity to air, or coloured light to darkness.'
This print is believed to be one of only two early examples in existence, and the only print currently in private hands. An early platinum print is in the Hallmark Photographic Collection, Kansas City. There are two later prints of this image in the collection of the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester and none in The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford. There are two later prints in the collection of George Eastman House.