The late 1910s and early 1920s were a time of significant change for Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946). He had spent more than a decade introducing the most advanced modern European art to the American public, presenting the first exhibitions in this country by such seminal artists as Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse, among many others, at 291, his New York gallery. Yet after he closed 291 in 1917, he refocused his efforts on American art, believing that it had been too long overshadowed by work from other countries.
In the early 1920s Stieglitz gathered together a loosely knit group of painters and photographers such as Georgia O'Keeffe (whom he would marry in 1924), Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, and Paul Strand. Like Stieglitz, these artists sought to cultivate what each believed was a distinctly American art, free from European influence. In addition to these visual artists, this group quickly came to include American authors, critics, historians, and poets, such as Hart Crane, Waldo Frank, Lewis Mumford, and Paul Rosenfeld, who were attracted to Stieglitz's charismatic personality and his passionate celebration of modern American art and culture.
Yet of all of these literary figures, Stieglitz and O'Keeffe were perhaps closest to Sherwood Anderson. They had met the author in the early 1920s, soon after the publication of Winesburg, Ohio (1919), his highly acclaimed book of interrelated short stories on the inhabitants of a fictional town in Ohio. Approximately the same age, Stieglitz and Anderson felt an immediate kinship for each other, recognizing their shared desire to express their experience of life in early 20th-century America. Their candid, often heartfelt letters to one another testify not only to their deep respect for each other's art but also to their warm friendship. Anderson even dedicated his autobiographical book A Story Teller's Story (1924), to his friend, writing that Stieglitz had been "more than father to so many puzzled, wistful children of the arts in this big, noisy, growing and groping America."
Thus, when Rosenfeld needed a portrait of Anderson to include in Port of New York (1924), his study of influential contemporary American authors, painters, and photographers, he naturally asked Stieglitz to make it. Stieglitz photographed Anderson in the spring of 1923, posing him in front of O'Keeffe's paintings, further indicating the close associations of the trio. Although his sessions making portraits of Dove and Marin, also made for Rosenfeld's book, resulted in only one or two photographs that met Stieglitz's exacting standards, he believed that seven of the portraits of Anderson were of importance. Stieglitz preserved six of these portraits of Anderson, which are now in the Key Set of his photographs at the National Gallery, while he selected a seventh—the work recently acquired by the Gallery—to be reproduced in Rosenfeld's book. No example of this latter work was known to exist until an outstanding vintage print was recently discovered in the papers of the photographer Imogen Cunningham, herself a great admirer of both Stieglitz's and Anderson's art. With its distinguished provenance, subject, and creator, it is a superb addition to the collection.
On verso, lower left in graphite: Photo by Stieglitz
Estate of Imogen Cunningham; Imogen Cunningham Trust, Lopez Island, WA; NGA purchase, 2009.