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Alfred Stieglitz

Hoboken, 1864–New York, 1946

Alfred Stieglitz was an American photographer who was instrumental in raising photography into an accepted art form. He was also a champion of modern art, and through his gallery, nicknamed “291,” he introduced many avant-garde artists to the American public. Stieglitz’s collection of paintings, works on paper, sculpture, and photographs became the foundation for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s modern collection.

Between 1879 and 1881 Stieglitz attended the College of the City of New York to pursue a degree in engineering but withdrew when his father retired from his successful wool business and moved the family to Germany. In 1882 Stieglitz enrolled at the Königliche Technishe Hochschule (Royal Technical High School) in Berlin. He enjoyed visiting the city’s museums and galleries, excursions that nurtured his interest in art. Around this time, Stieglitz purchased a camera and began pursuing photography with a passion. After returning to New York in 1890, he joined the Society of Amateur Photographers and ran his own printing company. In 1902 Stieglitz founded a gallery devoted to the Photo-Secession movement, through which he promoted photography as a fine art by exhibiting examples of Pictorial photography. The following year, he established Camera Work, a publication that featured the work of European and American photographers.

Stieglitz originally intended to show only photography at Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession in New York, but it soon became a groundbreaking venue for contemporary paintings, drawings, and sculpture as well. Opened in 1905 and renamed for its address (291 Fifth Avenue), the gallery occupied two small rooms on the top floor of a brownstone. The art program was guided in part by Edward Steichen, a Pictorialist photographer and member of the Photo-Secession group. Having spent time in Paris, Steichen knew many important artists and dealers and was instrumental not only in introducing them to Stieglitz but also in organizing their first American exhibitions at 291. Among the shows he arranged were those that featured work by Auguste Rodin (January 2–21, 1908), Henri Matisse (April 6–27, 1908), Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (December 20, 1909–January 14, 1910), Paul Cézanne (March 1–25, 1911), and Constantin Brancusi (March 12–April 1, 1914). The Mexican caricaturist Marius de Zayas initially declined Stieglitz’s proposal to exhibit his work at 291, but later befriended the dealer and joined Steichen as an adviser to the gallery.

De Zayas organized the first Pablo Picasso exhibition in the United States. The show included fifty works by the artist and was held at 291 from March 28–April 25, 1911. According to Stieglitz, it was a success; intrigued by negative reviews, more than seven thousand visitors attended. De Zayas immediately began planning a follow-up exhibition (December 9, 1914–January 11, 1915) to which the artist Francis Picabia loaned his own collection of recent works by Picasso and Georges Braque. This second show included Picasso’s Bottle and Wine Glass on a Table (1912; The Metropolitan Museum of Art), a papier collé that Stieglitz purchased from the exhibition. A third Picasso show (January 12–26, 1915) featured the drawing collection of the dealer Adolphe Basler, who had left his holdings at 291 as collateral against a loan from Stieglitz. Nine of the works (most of which dated to 1908–12) became Stieglitz’s property when Basler failed to repay the loan; seven of those drawings are now in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection. Stieglitz closed 291 at the end of the 1916–17 season when he learned that the brownstone had been sold and was slated for demolition.

For more information, see:

Greenough, Sarah. Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set. The Alfred Stieglitz Collection of Photographs. 2 vols. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2002.

Hamilton, George Heard. “The Alfred Stieglitz Collection.” Metropolitan Museum Journal 3 (1970): 371–92.

Messinger, Lisa Mintz, ed. Stieglitz and His Artists: Matisse to O’Keeffe. The Alfred Stieglitz Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011.

For photographs, paintings, drawings, letters, and ephemera documenting the lives and careers of Stieglitz and his companion, the artist Georgia O'Keeffe, see: Alfred Stieglitz/Georgia O'Keeffe Archive, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven.

For a miscellaneous collection of letters and bills of sale pertaining to the activities of de Zayas; photocopies of letters to Marius de Zayas pertaining to the magazine "291" and the Modern Gallery; and correspondence from Pablo Picasso, Diego Rivera, Paul Guillaume, Max Jacob, Agnes Meyer, Alfred Stieglitz, Tristan Tzara, and Max Weber, see: Marius de Zayas Archives, 1914–1948, Butler Library, Columbia University, New York.

How to cite this entry:
Boddewyn, Julia May, "Alfred Stieglitz," The Modern Art Index Project (January 2015), Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.