Edward Steichen: In Exaltation of Flowers
Edward Steichen (1879–1973), one of the leading photographers of the twentieth century, spent his early career equally devoted to both painting and photography. This exhibition highlights his most ambitious project as a painter—three large-scale paintings he created on the cusp of World War I as part of a series of seven murals.
Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Meyer Jr., a prominent couple who were actively engaged in the arts, commissioned the paintings to decorate the foyer of their New York City townhouse. The magnificent works feature women from the Meyer family and close associates who formed a tight-knit intellectual and artistic circle. Steichen himself was a member of this group of friends, who used floral names to address one another in correspondence and at social gatherings in creative and humorous ways.
In each panel, Steichen placed the botanical specimens that aligned with the sitter’s dominant personality traits alongside their human counterpart. In the painting titled Rose—Geranium, he portrayed Katharine Rhoades, the New York–born painter, photographer, and one-time love interest of photography pioneer Alfred Stieglitz. Petunia—Caladium—Budleya depicts the painter Marion Beckett, a still-life and portrait artist known as “Petunia Beckett.” The identification of the woman in Golden-Banded Lily—Violets is less certain and may be either Agnes Ernst Meyer, the patron, or Clara Steichen, the artist’s wife. He drew inspiration for these floral personifications from the book The Intelligence of Flowers (1907) by Symbolist poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck.
The paintings are complemented by photographs from the HRM’s collection, including a self-portrait by Steichen, works that depict women and flowers, as well as photographs by Rudolf Eickemeyer Jr., a contemporary of Steichen and one of the Museum’s founders. Together, these works shine a light on an under-appreciated aspect of the career of one of America’s most accomplished photographers while exploring the legacy of this artistic circle.
Support provided by Art Bridges.
Exhibitions are made possible by assistance provided by the County of Westchester.