Edward Steichen, ‘Mushton Shlushley, the Lyric Poet and Aestheticurean’, ca. 1922, Bowdoin College Museum of Art

As an apprentice in a lithographic firm, Edward Steichen taught himself the basics of photography and painting. In 1900 he met Alfred Stieglitz. Between 1906 and 1914, Steichen served as the elder photographer’s eyes and ears in Paris, coordinating exhibitions of avant-garde work by Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso for Stieglitz’s New York gallery. After World War I, he and Dana Desboro Glover, who became his second wife, conceived of the Oochen Republic. They imagined this fantastical world governed by the golden mean, an ancient mathematical ratio system. All of the realm’s inhabitants, including dogs, birds, and sea monsters, are formed by pleasingly-proportioned triangles. Several citizens make thinly veiled references to members of the Stieglitz circle, including “Johnny Marine” (John Marin) and “Mushton Shlushley” (Marsden Hartley). The artist never realized the children’s book for which these witty illustrations were intended.

Image rights: © 2015 The Estate of Edward Steichen / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

"This Is a Portrait If I Say So: Identity in American Art, 1912 to Today"

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Gift of Joanna T. Steichen

About Edward Steichen

Though he is immortalized as one of the greatest photographers of his time, it was Edward Steichen's early roots as a painter that allowed him to so drastically influence the photographic medium. “The mission of photography is to explain man to man and each to himself,” he theorized. Steichen’s attempt and ultimate success to gain recognition for photography as an art form, alongside his contemporary and Photo-Secession cofounder Alfred Stieglitz, employed a Pictorialist approach distinguished by dreamlike, soft-focused images that reflected the accepted style and principles of other art forms. A later stint as an aerial photographer during WWI led Steichen to adopt a Modernist vision—he would turn to straightforward, clean lines in his work thereafter, moving on to work in commercial photography and become an acclaimed pioneer of fashion photography.

American, 1879-1973, Bivange, Luxembourg