Balzac, towards the light, midnight 1908, from Camera Work, nos 34/35, 1911
Luxembourg, United States of America
27 Mar 1879 - 25 Mar 1973
Edward Steichen is acknowledged as one of the most significant pictorialists of the early 20th century. Along with Alfred Stieglitz, he was a founding member of the Photo-Secessionists and his work epitomises the exploration of the artistic and expressive possibilities of the photographic medium by this group. Steichen represented for Stieglitz the ideal of the ‘artist–photographer’, as one who used a formal training in art as a basis for developing a distinct photographic aesthetic. Armed from his artistic instruction with a painter’s sensibility, Steichen’s photography explored the atmospheric potential of light which was rendered as an expressive force through his impeccable technical command of the medium.
Steichen first met the sculptor Auguste Rodin in 1901 when he photographed the great master at his studio in Paris. Impressed with the evocative qualities of his work, Rodin asked Steichen to photograph his sculpture of the French writer Honoré de Balzac which, rejected by its commissioning body as being too controversial a portrait, stood in its original plaster form on the grounds of Rodin’s home. Accepting Rodin’s suggestion of photographing the work against a moonlit landscape, Steichen spent two nights making numerous exposures, studying the varying effects of the night’s sky on the figure. In ‘Balzac, towards the light, midnight’ Steichen powerfully re-creates the Balzac figure as a sleepless giant and a defiant presence in the expansively blackened landscape. With a symbolist’s drive for metaphor underlying his practice, Steichen aligns his sculpted subject with an image of the creative will of the sculptor himself.
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007
photogravure, hand pulled
15.8 x 20.3 cm image; 20.8 x 30.2 cm sheet
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Gift of the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation 1979
Not on display
© Reproduced with permission of Joanna T Steichen Permission to copy, print or download this image has been withheld by the copyright owner
Shown in 6 exhibitions
Three years on: acquisitions 1978-81, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 15 Oct 1981–01 Dec 1981
Ten years on, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Jan 1986–Jan 1986
Works from the Photography Collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 10 Feb 1989–15 May 1989
Soft but True: John Kauffmann (1864-1942) Art Photographer, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 30 Nov 1996–27 Feb 1997
Paths to abstraction 1867-1917, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 26 Jun 2010–19 Sep 2010
Referenced in 4 publications
Terence Maloon, Paths to abstraction 1867-1917, Sydney, 2010, 101 (illus.).
Denise Mimmocchi, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'International pictorialism', pg.53-69, Sydney, 2007, 52 (illus.), 59, 63 (illus.).
Gael Newtown, Three years on: a selection of acquisitions 1978-1981, 'Photography - Australian, European and American', pg. 67-84, Sydney, 1981, 71. cat.no. 9
Alfred Stieglitz (Editor), Camera Work, no 34/35, New York, 1911.