Edward J. Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879–1973)
Gum bichromate print
15 9/16 x 19 in. (39.6 x 48.3 cm)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Harriette and Noel Levine Gift, 2005 (2005.100.289)
When Steichen arrived in Paris in 1900, the Rodin Pavilion outside the Exposition Universelle was his first stop, and he saw not only the master's work but the master himself—"a stocky man with a massive head . . . and I made up my mind I was going to photograph him someday." Only after visiting the revered sculptor's studio, nearly every Saturday for a year, did Steichen finally dare to photograph him. Steichen described Rodin's studio as being so crowded with marble blocks and works in clay, plaster, and bronze that he had to compose his portrait from two exposures, one of Rodin and the Monument to Victor Hugo and another of The Thinker. He first printed each image separately and, having mastered the difficulties of combining the two negatives, joined them together in a single picture. The result is among the most ambitious efforts of any Pictorialist photographer to emulate art in the grand tradition. Suppressing the texture of the marble and bronze and thus emphasizing the presence of the sculptures as living entities, Steichen was able to assimilate the artist into the heroic world of his creations. Posed in relief against his work, Rodin seems to contemplate his own alter ego in The Thinker, while the luminous figure of Victor Hugo suggests poetic inspiration as the source of his creativity.