Alfred Stieglitz
Biography of American Photographer, Gallery 291.

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Alfred Stieglitz (c.1900)

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.

Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946)


Early Life and Artistic Training
Emerging Photographer
New York and Marriage
American Fine Art Photography (Photo-Secession)
291 Gallery, Promoter of Modern Art
Georgia O'Keeffe
The Intimate Gallery
An American Place
Highest Prices For Steiglitz Art
Other Famous Modern Photographers

Winter, Fifth Avenue, New York (1893)
Early street photography or work
of pictorialism?

Nude Study of Georgia O'Keeffe (1919)
Sold at Phillips auction for $302,500.


One of the most cultured and enterprising figures in American art, the photographer, art dealer, writer and publisher Alfred Stieglitz made his career in fine art photography, later combining with the American photographer, painter and curator Edward Steichen (1879-1973), in running the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession (later called simply "291", after its location at 291 Fifth Avenue New York).

Rapidly broadening his interest to embrace all forms of avant-garde art, including painting and sculpture, Stieglitz hosted the first exhibition of African Art in America, and the first US art shows for several important 20th century painters from Europe, such as Matisse (1908), Toulouse-Lautrec (1909), Paul Cezanne and Henri Rousseau (1910), Pablo Picasso (1911), Francis Picabia (1913), Constantin Brancusi (1914), Gino Severini (1917). In fact, along with the Armory Show (1913), Steiglitz did more to bring modern art to America in the period (1905-25) than anyone else. In addition, he was a firm supporter of indigenous art, and his circle included numerous American painters and sculptors, including the Wisconsin-born watercolourist and illustrator Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986), whom he married in 1924.

The editor and publisher of the journal Camera Work (1902-17), Steiglitz also produced a less successful magazine on the controversial Dada Movement (1915-16). In his own photographic art, he is best known for his views of New York, his landscapes and his studies of O'Keeffe. Along with Man Ray (1890-1976), Ansel Adams (1902-84) and Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), he remains one of the greatest photographers of the early decades of the 20th century.

For the best works, see:
Greatest Modern Paintings.

For an explanation of technical
and historical terms, see:
Art Photography Glossary.


Early Life and Artistic Training

Alfred Stieglitz was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, the eldest son of prosperous German-Jewish immigrants Edward Stieglitz (1833-1909) and Hedwig Ann Werner (1845-1922). After attending the prestigious Charlier Institute, it was decided that he should be educated according to more exacting German standards. Accordingly, in 1881 his father sold his business and moved the family back to Germany, where Steiglitz was enrolled at the high school in Karlsruhe, while his siblings studied in Weimar. The following year he entered the department of mechanical engineering at the Technische Hochschule in Berlin, with a huge monthly allowance from his father. As it happened his chemistry class was taught by Hermann Wilhelm Vogel, an important scientist in the new field of photography, an area in which Germany was beginning to specialize. At the same time he befriended the German artist Adolph Menzel (1815-1905) who introduced him to the idea of working and creating art directly from nature. Inspired by these contacts, Steiglitz bought his first camera and tripod, and spent time touring parts of Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, taking thousands of photographs of peasants and country scenes.

For a short account of the early inventions and evolution of camera art, please see: the History of Photography (c.1800-1900). See also: 19th-Century Photographers.

Emerging Photographer

In 1884, his parents - who themselves had been touring the Continent - moved back to New York, leaving their eldest son in Germany, where he devoted himself entirely to photography. Over the next few years he began to develop his own original ideas on the subject, with the aid of a growing personal library on the theory and practice of photography, along with details of talented photographers and their work. His studies took him into areas of fine art as well as aesthetics. From 1887, when he submitted his first article, "A Word or Two about Amateur Photography in Germany", to the English magazine Amateur Photographer, he wrote regularly for magazines in England and Germany. Also in 1887 he won first prize in a photographic competition run by Amateur Photographer, a feat he repeated the following year, and in several more magazines thereafter. Helped by these articles and his award-winning snaps, his reputation as an emerging lens-based artist began to spread across Europe.



New York and Marriage

In 1890, following the sudden death of his sister Flora, a reluctant Steiglitz returned to New York, a city he now considered parochial, uncultured and remote from the European multicultural mainstream. His doting father helped matters by buying him a small photography business, and Stieglitz also began writing for American Amateur Photographer magazine - where he soon became joint-editor, while his photographs started to be showcased at important exhibitions, including the prestigious joint exhibition of the Society of Amateur Photographers of New York, the Photographic Society of Philadelphia, and the Boston Camera Club. He bought his first hand-held camera and, in November 1893, married Emmeline Obermeyer, nine years his junior. Although rich, she shared few of his artistic or cultural interests. As a result, the marriage was not a success.

Leader of American Fine Art Photography (Photo-Secession)

Meanwhile, anxious to prove that the new medium of photography could be just as artistic as other types of art, Steiglitz determined to raise the status of the medium and its artists. (See also: Is Photography Art?) This he achieved in 1896, by helping to establish the Camera Club of New York, from a merger of the two big photographic clubs in the city, the Society of Amateur Photographers and the New York Camera Club. He became Vice-President of the new organization and editor of Camera Notes, its monthly journal, using the latter post to support and publish works by those cameramen who shared his artistic view of photography. In 1902, this high-handedness led to a grassroots revolt, which - following a highly successful photography show at the National Arts Club, organized by Steiglitz - led to him and others "seceding" from the group in 1902 to form the Photo-Secession - named after the anti-establishment Secession movements sweeping Europe, such as the Munich Secession (1892), the Berlin Secession movement (1898) and the Vienna Secession. This new body focused firmly on the aesthetics and craftsmanship of photography. Steiglitz's closest artist-friend at this time, was the Luxembourg-born photographer and painter Edward Steichen, whom he had met in 1900 at the First Chicago Photographic Salon. Steichen had trained originally as a painter, and was able to share many of his painterly ideas with his new colleague.

Note: the development of photographic art in America was given added impetus during the early 20th century by the growth of fashion photography and the emergence of fashion photographers like Richard Avedon and Irving Penn.

291 Gallery, Promoter of Modern Art

Stieglitz himself became editor and publisher of Camera Work (1902-17), Photo-Secession's high-quality magazine - which rapidly became an important forum of modern art - and also staged numerous exhibitions in partnership with Steichen, with whom he set up the venue "Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession", in 1905. It soon became known as "291" after its address on Fifth Avenue. Through his writing, exhibitions, and other social networking, Stieglitz became a strong supporter of creative photography, as well as avant-garde art generally, and went to great efforts to inform modern artists in America, about the latest modern art movements, notably Cubism (1908-14), Futurism (c.1909-14), Dada (1916-24), as well as works by modernist 20th century sculptors. Indeed, during the decade 1905-1914, "291" metamorphosed from being an outlet for exhibiting Photo-Secessionist photography, to being the foremost centre for modern European and American artists. With the advice of Steichen, Marius de Zayas, and Max Weber, all of whom had contacts with artists in France, "291" became the first place in America to showcase works by the Fauvist Henri Matisse (1869-1954), the Post-Impressionist Cezanne (1839-1906), the naif painter Henri Rousseau (Le Douanier) (1844-1910), the Cubists Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Francis Picabia (1879-1953), as well as the famous sculptors Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) and Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957). In addition, he also promoted representational and abstract paintings by modernist American artists including the master watercolourist John Marin (1870-1953), as well as Marsden Hartley (1877-1943), Arthur Dove (1880-1946), Alfred H Maurer (1868-1932), Abraham Walkowitz (1878-1965), Charles Demuth (1883-1935), and others.

Georgia O'Keeffe

The year 1917 marked an important watershed in Steiglitz's life. Hampered by lack of resources, a disfunctional marriage and uncertainty about his promotional activities, he had only one real interest: the development of his already close relationship with a 29-year old artist, Georgia O'Keeffe, whose drawings he had first seen in January 1916, and whom he believed was the soul-mate for whom he had been searching. As a result, he wound up what was left of the Photo-Secession, halted publication of Camera Work and closed "291". He also separated from his wife Emmy and set up home with O'Keeffe, whom he photographed obsessively, capturing a wide variety of moods and positions in more than 350 prints, including a number of the most expensive images of female nudes in history. In his general attitude to photography, Stieglitz was becoming less interested in the manipulation of the final image, preferring a sharp focus manner, as illustrated by his huge number of studies (fragments) of O'Keeffe, by his photographs of clouds (Equivalents), and by his support of the Cubist-style photography of Paul Strand (1890-1976) and the 'Precisionism' of Charles Sheeler (1883-1965). For contemporary developments in Europe, see: Eugene Atget (1857-1927).

The Intimate Gallery

During the period 1918-1923, Steiglitz continued to focus on his photography of O'Keeffe, while promoting other American artists in the Anderson Galleries and other venues. In 1924, after his divorce from Emmy was finalized, he married O'Keeffe, the same year that the Boston Museum of Fine Arts acquired a collection of twenty-seven of his photographs. This was a considerable achievement for Steiglitz, not least because it was the first time a major art museum had included photographs in its permanent collection. In 1925, he was offered a permanent space in the Anderson Galleries, which he accepted and renamed The Intimate Gallery. It was also during this time that he developed a business relationship with the new art collector Duncan Phillips (1886–1966), who was collecting famous paintings from the late-19th century and early-20th century, for The Phillips Memorial Gallery, and who purchased a number of works through The Intimate Gallery.

In 1928, as his marriage to O'Keeffe was starting to weaken as a result of his reluctance to leave New York, the 64-year old Steiglitz began having an affair with a 22-year old, named Dorothy Norman. However, while O'Keeffe was beginning to have concerns about her husband's insistence on strict control of her paintings, she was not fazed by his new Dorothy and, although they might often be apart during the Fall, winter and Spring, she wrote to him every week with enthusiasm, as though nothing had changed. Examples of O'Keeffe's autobiographical paintings from this period include Black Abstraction (1927, Metropolitan Museum), and her iconic Cow's Skull: Red, White, and Blue (1931, Metropolitan Museum) which signalled her growing attraction to New Mexico.

An American Place

In 1929, following the enforced closure of The Intimate Gallery, friends of Steiglitz secretly raised $16,000 and set up a new gallery for him, which he named An American Place, where he continued to show new works by his American artist, and at least one major annual show for O'Keeffe, whom he promoted with great vigour, regardless of critical reviews. In 1936 he put on one of the first shows for the black-and-white wilderness photographer Ansel Adams in New York City. In 1937, the Cleveland Museum of Art mounted the first major exhibition of Stieglitz's own photography, but the following year he suffered the first of a series of six heart attacks, that hit him regularly until in his death in 1946.


Alfred Stieglitz was the most influential figure in the history of modern art in America, at least between the years 1900 and 1935. This doesn't mean he was the greatest American artist of the period, rather that his multiplicity of roles - photographer, patron of modern artists, dealer, collector, exhibition curator, writer and publisher - collectively had a greater impact on American art than that of any other individual, during the period.

For another Jewish modernist artist who made a large contribution to photographic art, see Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946), the Hungarian experimental artist and designer, who founded the Institute of Design in Chicago.


Thanks to meticulous checking, cataloguing and placement of his photographs, by his wife, Georgia O'Keeffe, works by Alfred Stieglitz can be seen in many of America's best art museums, including: the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art (both, New York); the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Art Institute of Chicago; Fisk University, and others.

Highest Prices For Steiglitz Art

The most expensive photograph by Steiglitz, a palladium print of Georgia O'Keeffe (Hands) (1919), was auctioned for a massive $1.47 million in February 2006. On the same day, Georgia O'Keeffe Nude (1919), was auctioned for $1.36 million.

For more record prices, see: Most Expensive Paintings: Top 20.

Other Famous Modern Photographers

Edward Weston (1886-1958) Still life photos
Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) Berlin Dada artist, invented photomontage
John Heartfield (1891-1968) Dada photomontage artist
Walker Evans (1903-75) Great Depression portraits
Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) Street photography
Robert Capa (1913-54) War photography
Irving Penn (1917-2009) Fashion
Richard Avedon (1923-2004) Fashion photography
Bernd and Hilla Becher (1931-2007) and (b.1934) Architectural photos
Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-89) Nude studies, still lifes of plants
Jeff Wall (b.1946) "Staged photography"

• For biographies of other lens-based artists, see: Famous Painters.
• For more details of fine art photography, see: Visual Arts Encyclopedia.

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