Recognized today as an icon of the twentieth century, Philippe Halsman's portrait of Albert Einstein has been widely reproduced since its creation, including a 1966 U.S. postage stamp. It most recently appeared on the cover of Time magazine in their issue honoring Einstein as "person of the century".
Halsman's own words best describe his relationship with Einstein and the process he went through to make the portrait.
I admired Albert Einstein more than anyone I ever photographed, not only as the genius who single-handedly had changed the foundation of modern physics but even more as a rare and idealistic human being.
Personally, I owed him an immense debt of gratitude. After the fall of France, it was through his personal intervention that my name was added to the list of artists and scientists who, in danger of being captured by the Nazis, were given emergency visas to the United States.
After my miraculous rescue I went to Princeton to thank Einstein, and I remember vividly my first impression. Instead of a frail scientist I saw a deep-chested man with a resonant voice and a hearty laugh...
The question of how to capture the essence of such a man in a portrait filled me with apprehension. Finally, in 1947, I had the courage to bring on one of my visits my Halsman camera and a few floodlights. After tea, I asked for permission to set up my lights in Einstein's study. The professor sat down and started peacefully working on his mathematical calculations. I took a few pictures. Ordinarily, Einstein did not like photographers, whom he called Lichtaffen (light monkeys). But he cooperated because I was his guest and, after all, he had helped save me.
Suddenly looking into my camera, he started talking. He spoke about his despair that his formula E=mc2 and his letter to President Roosevelt had made the atomic bomb possible, that his scientific search had resulted in the death of so many human beings. "Have you read," he asked, "that powerful voices in the United States are demanding that the bomb be dropped on Russia now, before the Russians have time to perfect their own?" With my entire being I felt how much this infinitely good and compassionate man was suffering from the knowledge that he had helped to put in the hands of politicians a monstrous weapon of devastation and death.
He grew silent. His eyes had a look of immense sadness. There was a question and a reproach in them.
The spell of this moment almost paralyzed me. Then, with an effort, I released the shutter of my camera. Einstein looked up, and I asked him, "So you don't believe that there will ever be peace?"
"No," he answered. "As long as there will be man there will be wars." (Philippe Halsman: A Retrospective, p. 65.)
Other examples of this image are in the collections of The Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., The National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., The International Center of Photography, New York and the Royal Photographic Society, London.
Vintage prints in this size are considered rare. According to the Archive, there are only three extant examples of this image in this size; two housed at the Archive and one offered here.