Fashion Photography as a Battleground

POSTED BY , ON July 16, 2014, 0 COMMENTS

Relatively recent films and television shows like Pret á Porter, Ugly Betty, and The Devil Wears Prada offer extreme views of publishing in the fashion world. Fraught with danger, conflict, and misadventures, the stakes seem unnaturally high for each glossy issue. And yet, aspects of Edward Steichen’s influential take on modern fashion photography could be said to have originated in the very real, international conflict of World War I. Sharp, Clear Pictures: Edward Steichen’s World War I and Condé Nast Years, a fascinating show now open in the Art Institute’s Galleries 1-4, maps the ways the artist’s outlook on photography changed after becoming deeply involved in establishing an aerial photography program for the U.S. military during World War I.

Steichen started out the early twentieth century as an Alfred Stieglitz protégé, perhaps most memorably photographing Auguste Rodin in Paris in an evocatively lit haze, sitting in profile opposite his statue of The Thinker. This image is nonetheless a key opening to Sharp, Clear Pictures, as Rodin had a connection to the important album of aerial photographs Steichen assembled after the war, and which makes up about half of the exhibition. Indeed, Steichen inscribed this book of over 80 views of artillery-damaged European towns to a friend whose family included some of Rodin’s major patrons.


The book has been disbound, so visitors can see all the album sheets with his handwritten captions in the order Steichen assembled them in 1919. This was just after he left his position as commander of the Photographic Section for the United States Army Expeditionary Forces Air Service. The approach varies, from comparisons between oblique and vertical shots of bombed-out locations with “practically not a roof left in the town,” to masked-out and collaged negatives honing in on specific enemy locations and airport installations. In several cases, the images have been juxtaposed and spliced together, often out of necessity to give the illusion that planes could fly high enough to take in larger expanses, with jagged edges rimmed with black borders. Although Steichen and his colleagues borrowed this technical approach from the French and British, he also seems to have utilized the same idea of image construction in publishing later on. In two intriguing instances in the show alone, he produced a double spread for a magazine by taking two separate pictures with a similar center, which allowed him to splice them together and crop the overall image to his liking. It also allowed him to reuse his favorite models on both sides of the page, or as in a fashion shoot from a biblical musical show, double the cast of singers by reorganizing them from the left to the right in the second half of the image. Interestingly, one of the few sheets in the album that is not aerial photography taken under his command is a fashion plate of sorts, involving a caricature of officers making fun of each others’ uniforms. Its inclusion may have been arbitrary, or an attempt at comic relief, but it would be in fashion that Steichen found his next muse.


Similarly honing his skills, Steichen made several self-portraits over the years, including one from 1917 before heading to war-torn Europe.  Although he probably did not in the end act as a photographer on live missions, here he posed himself with his camera in a self-assured and more matter-of-fact manner than an earlier one developed gradually in painterly strokes. The result is also more cinematic, even bearing a striking resemblance to a 1990s Aidan Quinn and so to modern eyes, suggestive of his future in celebrity portraiture.


Many of the actors and playwrights he would portray had enlisted in World War I, even if they had not necessarily seen live combat. Nöel Coward was one of those given an early honorable discharge. Steichen poses him here in gloriously modern attire and a feline grace within a sleekly abstract architectural interior in 1932 for Vanity Fair. Coward was by then the successful playwright, actor, and songwriter of the titillating Private Lives, which had already been turned into a Hollywood film. Oozing glamor with each puff of his cigarette, Steichen’s evocation of Coward as the man of his age is absolutely seamless, just like his rethinking of photography.

Image Credits:

Photographic Section, US Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), and Major Edward J. Steichen, ASA. In Chateau Thierry Sector showing service bridges destroyed by retreating enemy forces, 1918. Gift of William Kistler. © 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Edward Steichen, Self-Portrait with Camera, 1917. Restricted gifts of Brenda and Earl Shapiro and the Smart Family Foundation; Laura T. Magnuson Acquisition, Comer Foundation, The Mary and Leigh Block Endowment funds; restricted gifts of Sidney and Sondra Berman Epstein, Karen and Jim Frank, Marian Pawlick; Ethel T. Scarborough, Hugh Leander and Mary Trumbull Adams Memorial Endowment, Betty Bell Spooner funds; restricted gifts of Vicki and Thomas Horwich, Robin and Sandy Stuart; Samuel A. Marx Purchase Fund for Major Acquisitions, S. DeWitt Clough, Photographic Society, Irving and June Seaman Endowment, Morris L. Parker funds,  © 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Edward Steichen. Noel Coward, 1932. Bequest of Edward Steichen by direction of Joanna T. Steichen and George Eastman House. © 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

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For Serious Art Addicts

POSTED BY , ON May 28, 2014, Comments Off


Has anyone told you not to play with your food? How about with your art? For all of us tactile learners, the Art Institute has cooked up a treat! We aren’t suggesting a hands-on policy in the galleries (though some fake news sites have!). Instead, we’re debuting a new game for anyone who has ever visited the Art Institute of Chicago, is planning to visit, or would like to do so someday! We’ve arranged some of our greatest treasures as the pieces in a sliding tile game built like the 2048 game that recently proved so hard to stop playing.


If you’re going to spend excessive amounts of time on your computer or phone merging tiles, why not look at some amazing art while you’re at it? Check out our game here. Let us know on this blog, or on our Facebook page if you can figure out each of the pictures. There are eleven different artworks standing for each of the doubled numbers from 2 to 2048 in the original game.

And did we mention it’s addictive? Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

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All the Museum’s a Stage

POSTED BY , ON April 29, 2014, Comments Off

On the occasion of William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, WTTW, Chicago’s local PBS station will be airing a documentary about Shakespeare in Chicago. As the Bard of course never set foot in the New World, it relies on our city’s subsequent interpretation of his plays. But while much of the broadcast includes footage of Chicago Shakespeare Theater performances from the 1980s to the present, the filmmakers also decided to look more broadly at the Bard’s influence on the arts in Chicago. In the process, they came to the Art Institute to look at a few of the over 200 artworks in our collection with a Shakespeare connection and spent several hours filming me speaking about these little-seen theatrical items in the Glore Print Study Room. Here is a sneak peek at some of our objects that may or may not be included in the final broadcast.

From the Ryerson and Burnham Library Archives Century of Progress Collection, we have photographic proof that Shakespeare was here in Chicago after all! Or at least a life-size recreation of his Globe Theatre was here in the Windy City. The postcard below shows the threatre constructed for the “Merrie England” section of the 1933 Chicago Century of Progress exposition.


There are ceramic busts of Shakespeare and chess pieces curiously resembling Lady Macbeth in our department of European Decorative Arts, and portraits of actors playing famous roles in Medieval to Modern European Painting and Sculpture as well as Photography, and even an Anne Lemieux sculpture in Contemporary that took a Richard II quote as its inspiration.

The Department of Prints and Drawings includes by far the most Shakespearean items, although no illustrations of Shakespeare’s plays contemporary with the first performances survive. However, the Bard became all the rage a century later in eighteenth-century Britain, when the penchant for grand tragedies ensured that one out of every six plays performed in London was one of his. The actor, director, and theater owner David Garrick turned celebrity casting (usually of himself, with his biggest role as the villainous Richard III) for these performances into big business, and we have the collectible prints to prove it.


Our City, Our Shakespeare will begin airing on May 1. Click here for more complete listing information.

Image Credit:

John Dixon after Nathaniel Dance. Mr. Garrick in Richard the Third, published April 28, 1772. The John H. Wrenn Memorial Endowment Fund and the Stanley Field Fund.

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Still Hunting Masterpieces After All These Years

POSTED BY , ON March 14, 2014, 1 COMMENTS


The Thrill of the Chase: Drawings for the Harry B. and Bessie K. Braude Memorial Collection will be opening soon in the Jean and Steven Goldman Prints and Drawings Galleries. These exquisite drawings belong to a very special friend of the museum. Dorothy Braude Edinburg, or as we affectionately call her for short, DBE, has been chasing the world’s best artworks on paper for some three quarters of a century. Her due diligence in the quest for only the very best keeps her going strong.

Dorothy has a keen eye, exceedingly high standards for style, attribution, and condition, and a relentless taste for new acquisitions. With these tools, she has accumulated a superlative collection of European drawings, prints, and illustrated books, many of which she herself bought at live auction. Most of these treasures have been welcome guests at the Art Institute for many of the 22 years we’ve known and worked with this amazing, tireless woman. This exhibition includes 87 drawings she purchased since 1991 in active consultation with Art Institute curators, conservators, and other museum specialists.

My first successful auction purchase in tandem with Dorothy was the 1587 drawing of a coat of arms by Daniel Lindtmayer, a Swiss artist who specialized in patterns for stained glass. Dorothy gave us a list of items in the January 2009 Sotheby’s New York sale that she liked, and we helped her narrow it down and further researched the best prospects. This piece was beautifully drawn with allegorical figures, and particularly lively with scribbled annotations suggesting the colors of glass for the final window. It included several other contemporary inscriptions, and, importantly, was securely signed and dated by the artist. I met Dorothy at Sotheby’s prior to the sale so we could see the drawing in person, out of the frame. Squeezed into a tiny narrow room with a black light, Dorothy herself checked the paper for obvious defects that would be invisible to the naked eye. Our Head of Conservation, who came by later to inspect it on her own, gave the final approval. With no signs of a weakened or over-conserved sheet, Dorothy went on to bid victoriously over the phone, and the piece is now hanging on the wall of Gallery 124B of The Thrill of the Chase, just around the corner from the Jean and Steven Goldman Study Center.

Over the years, we have shown Chicago hundreds of Dorothy’s prints in the second floor hallway galleries (including the current 19th-century rotations in 220a and 221a), dozens of her books in Ryerson and Burnham Library exhibitions, and her most prized drawings in a series of major exhibitions throughout the museum. The Thrill of the Chase is a fitting tribute to the history of her collection, which as yet shows no signs of being close to completion, and our collection, which has gained so much through her.

Image Credit: Daniel Lindtmayer. The Arms of Habsberg Flanked by an Elegant Couple, 1587. Gift of Dorothy Braude Edinburg to the Harry B. and Bessie K. Braude Memorial Collection.

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The Monuments Men’s Legacy

POSTED BY , ON February 07, 2014, Comments Off


It isn’t every day that George Clooney and an all-star Hollywood cast make a movie about the fate of a drawing now at the Art Institute of Chicago. And yet, The Monuments Men, which is opening today nationwide, is a celebration of the soldiers who saved millions of purloined artworks from willful destruction by the Nazi regime during World War II. These men and women, officially known as the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section, were no ordinary soldiers, but trained art historians, architects, and archaeologists. They went into battle to save the irreplaceable cultural heritage that Hitler had amassed in his progress through Europe. He hid these riches everywhere from Austrian salt mines to Bavarian castles and then instructed his troops to destroy them as the Reich fell. Not only did the Monuments Men save the art, in the years following the war they returned it to its rightful owners, many of whom were Jewish.

The Art Institute rigorously publishes the known provenance of its artworks on our website under “Ownership History.”  For one luminous drawing by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, this history is truly the stuff of legend. Not only was the work confiscated from its Jewish gallery owner Georges Wildenstein in Paris in 1943, but a physical card survives marking it as one of the works recovered by the Monuments Men in 1945. Wildenstein took possession again in 1947, and eventually sold the work of his own accord. When the Art Institute purchased the Ingres drawing in 1972, it was free and clear of any connection to the years it was held hostage by the third Reich. (The full ownership history of the drawing is included below.) And most importantly, thanks to the Monuments Men, it survived for us to enjoy.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, (French, 1780-1867)  Sheet of Studies with the Head of the Fornarina and Hands of Madame de Senonnes, 1814/16.  Graphite, with stumping, on light-weight yellowish-tan wove paper.  Restricted gift of the Joseph and Helen Regenstein Foundation, 1972.32.

Ownership History:

Estate of the artist [Lugt 1477]. Georges Wildenstein (1892–1963), Paris [E.R.R. card]; confiscated by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (E.R.R.), before January 15, 1943 [January 15, 1943 is the date the drawing was entered into the E.R.R.’s records at the Jeu de Paume Museum in Paris]; recovered by the American Forces’ Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Service (M.F.A.A.) and processed at the Munich Central Art Collecting Point, June 24, 1945 [Central Collecting Point card]; repatriated to France, September 19, 1946 and restituted to Wildenstein, March 21, 1947 [Central Collecting Point card; Cultural Plunder by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg: Database of Art Objects at the Jeu de Paume (on-line)]. Wildenstein and Company, London, by May 1956 [1956 exh. cat.]. Villiers David, London [according to a letter from Frederick Schab dated March 7, 1972 in the curatorial file]. Sold by the William Schab Gallery, New York, to the Art Institute, 1972.




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