Balzac, The Silhouette—4 A.M.

Artist: Edward J. Steichen (American (born Luxembourg), Bivange 1879–1973 West Redding, Connecticut)

Date: 1908

Medium: Gum bichromate print

Dimensions: 37.9 x 46 cm (14 15/16 x 18 1/8 in.)

Classification: Photographs

Credit Line: Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1933

Accession Number: 33.43.36

Rights and Reproduction: © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Late in the summer of 1908 Rodin moved the plaster of his sculpture of the French writer Honoré de Balzac out of his studio and into the open air so that Steichen, who disliked its chalky aspect in the daylight, could photograph it by the light of the moon. Waiting through several exposures as long as an hour each, Steichen made this exposure at 4:00 A.M., when the moonlight transformed the plaster into a monumental silhouette against the brooding nocturnal landscape. Steichen recalled that when he presented his finished pigment prints some weeks later, an elated Rodin exclaimed, "You will make the world understand my Balzac through your pictures. They are like Christ walking on the desert." Stieglitz reproduced this image along with nine of Rodin's drawings in "Camera Work" in July 1911.