Steerage, 1907
small-format photogravure on Japanese tissue paper, mounted on board
signed, titled and dated in pencil (margin); signed, titled, dated and annotated on affixed original An American Place frame backing (affixed frame backing)
image: 734 x 618 in. (19.6 x 15.5 cm.)
sheet: 11 x 778 in. (27.9 x 20 cm.)
mount: 8 x 1118 in. (20.3 x 28.2 cm.)
This print is from Camera Work, Number 36, published July 1911.
Artist Carl Van Vechten (1880–1964);
gifted from the above to Joseph Solomon, Executor of Vechten Estate;
by descent to the present owner.
Alfred Stieglitz, Camera Work, New York, no. 36, October 1911, pl. IX.
Beaumont Newhall, The History of Photography: From 1839 to the Present Day, The Museum of Modern Art/George Eastman House, New York, 1964, p. 112.
Doris Bry, Alfred Stieglitz: Photographer, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1965, pl. 8.
William Innes Homer, Alfred Stieglitz and the Photo-Secession, Little, Brown & Co., Boston, 1983, p. 156.
Sarah Greenough, Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set, Volume One 1886-1922, Abrams/National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2002, pp. 190-94, cat. nos. 310-14.
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Lot Essay

'Coming to the end of the deck I stood alone, looking down. There were men, women and children on the lower level of the steerage...The scene fascinated me: A round straw hat; the funnel leaning left, the stairway leaning right; the white drawbridge, its railings made of chain; white suspenders crossed on the back of a man below; circular iron machinery; a mast that cut into the sky, completing a triangle. I stood spellbound for a while. I saw shapes related to one another—a picture of shapes, and underlying it, a new vision that held me: simple people; the feeling of ship, ocean, sky; a sense of release that I was away from the mob called the ‘rich.’ Rembrandt came into my mind and I wondered would he have felt as I did.' – Alfred Stieglitz

Taken while on a trip with his wife Emmeline in 1907, Stieglitz’s photograph, The Steerage, remains iconic to this day. Among the reasons for its lasting importance, the image demonstrates Stieglitz’s crucial departure from his earlier championing of Pictorialism, a departure that arguably helped set the trajectory for much of Modern photography thereafter.

Stieglitz may be photography’s leading 20th century advocate, having edited the luxurious photographic journal Camera Work from 1902 until 1917, and pioneering the exhibition space familiarly known as ‘291’ with Edward Steichen beginning in 1905. Until the time The Steerage was made, all of Stieglitz’s photography related enterprises promoted the propagation of painterly devices that blurred the lines between photography and fine art. The Steerage represents a pivot in Stieglitz’s personal oeuvre towards a new type of photography, more direct and more representative of the fast-paced energy of modern life. The sharp diagonals that slice through the seemingly chaotic scene and converge into a striking and sharp congregation of lines of shapes differs greatly from his earlier Pictorialist works which sought to emulate the soft textures of drawings, prints and watercolors.

The print on offer here is a rare, signed photogravure of this masterwork, accompanied by the original An American Place frame backing.

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