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Paul Robeson as Emperor Jones

circa 1933


Edward Steichen

Luxembourg, United States of America

27 Mar 1879 - 25 Mar 1973


Like Alfred Stieglitz, Steichen was a giant of American photography. His career extended from his first exhibited photographs in 1899 until his retirement as curator of photographs at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, in 1962. In between he was an influential member of The Linked Ring Brotherhood and the Photo-Secessionists who promoted photography as art; co-publisher with Stieglitz of ‘Camera Work’; and co-director with Stieglitz of gallery 291 in New York. He was chief photographer for Condé Nast publications from 1923 until 1937 and he was in charge of all American Navy combat photography during the Second World War. Among the many exhibitions he organised while at MoMA was the enormously influential ‘Family of man’.

From early in his career Steichen was regarded as an innovative portrait photographer. His portraits of Auguste Rodin encapsulated the essence of the sculptor; his portraits of actors encapsulated the essence of their roles. The photograph of Paul Robeson as Emperor Jones was taken for ‘Vanity Fair’ magazine: ‘’Vanity Fair’ was the magazine of talent, intellect, wit, culture and power’1 and Robeson had just signed on to appear in the film of the eponymous Eugene O’Neill play. He had played Emperor Jones in the 1925 stage play and was one of the first African–American men to play serious roles in the primarily white American theatre.

1. Tucker A W 1984, 'Works on paper: Edward Steichen: the Condé Nast years', Museum of Fine Arts, Houston np

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007


Other Title

Paul Robeson as the Emperor Jones, New York


circa 1933

Media category


Materials used

gelatin silver photograph


24.6 x 16.1 cm image/sheet

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Purchased 1989


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Edward Steichen

Works in the collection


Shown in 3 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 3 publications


Judy Annear, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'The photograph and portraiture', pg.15-31, Sydney, 2007, 30 (illus.).

Judy Annear, American beauty: from Muybridge to Goldin, Sydney, 2003. no catalogue numbers

Barbara Haskell, Edward Steichen, New York, 2000.