Historical Photographers: Alfred Stieglitz, Part IV

Part I, Part II, and Part III of this series were posted earlier

As his relationship with Georgia O’Keeffe deepened, Stieglitz began to resent any time spent apart from her. His marriage to Emmeline had been loveless for many years. He deeply resented Emmy not becoming his “twin” upon marriage. Now that he had found a woman with whom he had that much-longed for “twin-ness,” he did not want to be parted from her. In 1918, O’Keeffe moved to New York. Stieglitz promised to provide Georgia with a quiet studio where she could paint. From the moment she arrived in New York, the two were inseparable and, within the month of her arrival, Stieglitz had already begun to take nude photos of her. Stieglitz’s wife, Emmy, came home during one of the pair’s sessions. Emmy issued an ultimatum — either Stieglitz quit seeing O’Keeffe or they both needed to leave.

Stieglitz left. He and Georgia moved into an apartment together and he had soon filed for divorce. Emmy repented of her hasty ultimatum but, even after using all of the delaying tactics she could find, her marriage to Alfred Stieglitz was dissolved in 1924. Stieglitz married Georgia O’Keeffe four months later.

1918 – 1925 was the most prolific point of Stieglitz’s life as a photographer. In this period, he took and produced more than 350 mounted prints of O’Keeffe, capturing a wide range of moods and personality. In 1920, Mitchell Kennerly from the Anderson Galleries in New York invited Stieglitz to put together a major exhibition of his photographs. Stieglitz spent much of that year mounting some of his recent works. In 1921, he hung the first solo exhibit of his work since 1913. Out of the nearly one hundred and fifty prints he put on view, only seventeen had been seen before. In the catalog for this exhibit, Stieglitz made what would become his famous declaration: “I was born in Hoboken. I am an American. Photography is my passion. The search for Truth my obsession.”

His spirit renewed, Stieglitz began working to help organize other artists’ works into exhibits as well as beginning his own branching out into more experimental photography. A rabid perfectionist, Stieglitz would often take the same photos of the same scene over and over again until he had it “right.” He would then use only the finest papers and printing techniques to bring the image to print. He always considered his endeavors “work” because of the effort he put into them. He disdained the term “art” believing it to belong to classes of expression one had to be “taught” how to appreciate.

In 1925, the Anderson Galleries invited Stieglitz to put together an exhibition for them. Stieglitz outdid himself by putting together the Seven Americas exhibit. This exhibit featured works from Arthur G. Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Charles Demuth, Paul Strand, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Alfred Stieglitz. Soon after, Stieglitz was offered the continual use of one of the rooms from the Anderson Galleries. Dubbing it “The Room,” Stieglitz used it to showcase some of his more personal works as well as works from his friends. Between 1925 and 1929, The Room hosted sixteen events featuring the works of Marin, Dove, Hartley, O’Keeffe, and Strand and individual exhibits featuring the works of Gaston Lachaise, Oscar Bluemner, and Francis Picabia.

In 1929, Stieglitz was informed that The Room was going to be demolished. His friends, the Strands, organized money and found a place for him to recreate new exhibits. However, Stieglitz, growing older and more tired, rebuffed their gift by saying it was time for young people to start doing more of the work. In time, he did accept the gift with gratitude and grace but this marked the beginning of the end of several of Stieglitz’s friendships. On December 15, 1929, Stieglitz opened his new gallery and named it An American Place or, more simply “The Place.” He showed individual and group shows from Marin, Demuth, Hartley, Dove, and Strand with at least one major exhibit for O’Keeffe each year. The Place ran for sixteen years. In 1936, Stieglitz returned to his photographic roots by exhibiting works from Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter. In 1937, the Cleveland Museum of Art featured an exhibit of works from Stieglitz, the first major exhibition of his works in a gallery outside of his control.

The next year, 1938, Stieglitz suffered his first heart attack. After recovering, he returned to work at The Place. However, his health was in decline and he suffered five more heart attacks before dying after a stroke in 1946. He was cremated and his ashes spread near his Lake George home by his wife, Georgia O’Keeffe.