Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Little Round Mirror

The Little Round Mirror, 1901, printed 1905
Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879–1973)
Gum bichromate over platinum print
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Seductive and sinister, The Little Round Mirror and In Memoriam (33.43.48) were made in Paris in 1901 as part of a series of nudes that combine classical artistic tropes with the moody, attenuated style of the contemporary Symbolist movement. The creation of these prints required diligent, time-consuming darkroom work and multiple photographic printing processes—a fact somewhat at odds with their seemingly spontaneous, gestural appearance. In both pictures, Steichen applied layers of dark pigment, obscuring and masking the identity of his model and transforming her into an aesthetic element in harmony with the rest of the picture.

Even though Steichen suppressed any semblance of individuality here, the woman who stood for these pictures was probably the enigmatic "Rosa," Steichen's lover, who followed him to Paris in 1901. Their relationship deteriorated, and sometime after Steichen's engagement to Clara Smith, Rosa committed suicide. Although this backstory had no bearing on what Steichen hoped to convey in his pictures, The Little Round Mirror, with its admonition of narcissistic tendencies, and the presciently elegiac In Memoriam tell a tale that is almost as dark as the tragedy of the young model.