American | 1879-1973
Oil on canvas
Signed "Steichen" (lower left)
"Everything is sacrificed to the idea, a study in the somber supremacy of genius and the martyrdom of the artist. It is the Beethoven of the Fifth, not of the Ninth, Symphony." — Sidney Allen for Camera Work, No. 2, 1903 on Edward Steichen’s Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was Steichen’s most beloved composer, so it is no wonder that this highly expressive and beautiful work features the visage of the great musician. Dark yet enchanting, the musical master stares over his sheets at the viewer. Beethoven is depicted as serious and focused in his dark robes, nearly blending into the background in the lower half of the canvas. Simultaneously realistic and symbolic, the work reflects Steichen’s unmistakable talent for composition, balance and hue. Steichen completed the painting in 1902, immediately receiving critical praise for its commanding nature. Beethoven was hung prominently beside his photos at his first solo show in June 1902 at La Maison des Artistes. The artwork was then proudly exhibited at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, and later at the National Arts Club Special Exhibition of Contemporary Art in 1908.
Though he began his artistic career as a painter, training at the Académie Julian in Paris, Edward Steichen is also known for his role in revolutionizing photography from a commercial tool into an artistic medium. Famed artist and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz often featured Steichen’s artwork in the magazine Camera Work, published from 1903 to 1917 as photography gained popularity. Over the years, Steichen served as the chief photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair as well as the Director of Photography at the MoMA in New York. His dramatic, highly stylized compositions and curatorial eye catapulted photography into greater prestige. An art critic quipped in 1905: "One should not say that he recalls Rembrandt but rather, at this rate, that Rembrandt will, in time, remind us of Steichen."
As Steichen shifted his artistic focus to photography, he destroyed nearly all of his painted compositions. Beethoven represents one of the very few surviving paintings, and is considered his most remarkable.
Canvas: 47 1/2“ high by 48“ wideFrame: 50 5/8“ high by 54 3/4“ wide by 1 1/2" deep
Private Collection of Roland Conklin, purchased c. 1917.
Immaculate Conception Seminary, Huntington, NY, as part of Conklin Estate, c. 1939.
La Maison des Artistes, Steichen’s first one-man show, alongside his photographs, June 1902.
Louisiana Purchase Exposition (St. Louis World’s Fair), 1904.
National Arts Club Special Exhibition of Contemporary Art, January 1908.