Foreword to the Online Edition
In 2002 the National Gallery of Art released Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set, a two-volume publication that reproduced all of the 1,642 photographs that Georgia O’Keeffe and the Alfred Stieglitz Estate had given the museum in 1949 and 1980. This elegantly produced set of books is the authoritative scholarly resource on the photographs and photographic practice of Alfred Stieglitz, a seminal figure in twentieth-century American art. It established for the first time the chronology for Stieglitz’s art from his earliest photographs made in the 1880s to his last works from 1937. Including exhibition and reproduction histories, as well as variant prints of many of his most celebrated photographs, it also allowed readers to grasp Stieglitz’s own changing assessment of his art throughout his lifetime. With scholarly essays on the development of Stieglitz’s photographs and his portfolios, along with a chronology of his processes and techniques, it was widely hailed as one of the first definitive publications on any photographer’s work, and it immediately became a benchmark in the history of photography. It was, however, only available in its printed version, not online.
The National Gallery of Art is extremely pleased to release this new digital edition of the Key Set, which makes available to all both a critical publication in the history of photography and, for the first time, images of the foremost collection of Stieglitz’s photographs. Incorporating updated scholarship, including recent conservation findings, as well as authored overviews of the major periods in his art, robust search functionality, and advanced image viewing and comparison tools, the online Key Set opens up new avenues for researching—and being inspired by—Stieglitz’s work. The Key Set stands out, too, for being the first volume in the Gallery’s award-winning Online Editions series to be devoted to works from its outstanding photographs collection, reflecting our interest in publishing critical research across the breadth of the Gallery’s holdings.
The result of five years of intense collaborative work by the department of photographs, the publishing office, the department of photograph conservation, the department of imaging and photographic services, the department of technology solutions, and the Gallery website team, the Key Set would not have been possible without a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. We wish to particularly thank Dr. Teresa A. Carbone, program director for American art, for her commitment to both the National Gallery of Art and this project. We also wish to thank Juan Hamilton, Georgia O’Keeffe’s representative, for his careful stewardship of the Alfred Stieglitz Collection at the National Gallery of Art.
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Foreword to the Print Edition
Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946) has been justly celebrated for the pioneering exhibitions of modern European art that he presented at his gallery 291 between 1907 and 1917 and for his support of a select group of American artists that has come to be known as “The Stieglitz Circle.” His greatest passion, though, was photography. When he began to photograph in the early 1880s, few people believed that the medium could be used for creative expression. When he died more than sixty years later, few doubted it. He devotedly worked to show a skeptical public the creative potential of the medium, utilizing every means possible: he wrote articles, published and edited periodicals, and organized exhibitions of photographs. Here the subject is Stieglitz’s own art—the early photographs made in Europe as well as the United States, his studies of New York City and the clouds and landscape around his home in New York State, and the portraits of his friends, colleagues, and his wife, Georgia O’Keeffe. These images, among the finest examples of the art of photography, eloquently reveal the power of the medium to create work expressive of both the new American modernist spirit and the maker himself.
After Stieglitz’s death in 1946, Miss O’Keeffe faced the responsibility of dispersing the works of art in his collection, which included more than 2,500 of his own photographs. “In order that his work might be seen as a whole,” Miss O’Keeffe selected the finest print of every mounted photograph in Stieglitz’s possession at the time of his death and put it into the entity she called the “key set.” She donated these to the National Gallery of Art in 1949 and 1980. The largest and most cohesive collection of his work, the Key Set is an unparalleled record of Stieglitz’s growth, development, and seminal contributions to the art of photography. It is, as Miss O’Keeffe rightly wrote in 1949, “the most important part” of Stieglitz’s legacy.
Miss O’Keeffe chose the National Gallery of Art as the repository of the Key Set because, as she explained, “Stieglitz worked for the recognition of photography as a fine art––the National Gallery means something in relation to that.” In 1958 and 1983 Miss O’Keeffe worked directly with the National Gallery of Art on exhibitions drawn from the Key Set. In subsequent years the Gallery has explored the contributions that Stieglitz and the artists associated with him made to modern American art, through monographic exhibitions as well as in our 2001 exhibition Modern Art and America: Alfred Stieglitz and His New York Galleries.
Miss O’Keeffe wanted the full range of Stieglitz’s work to be widely known and understood. This catalogue both fulfills that wish and establishes a chronology for Stieglitz’s art. The project has been particularly challenging, not only because it synthesizes an especially large volume of research, but also because Stieglitz himself set and scrupulously maintained extremely high standards for quality in the reproduction of fine art. We were especially fortunate when Eastman Kodak Company offered to support the Alfred Stieglitz Project. In the first phase, completed in 1999, we published a new edition of our long out-of-print book Alfred Stieglitz: Photographs & Writings (1st ed. 1983). In the second phase we presented a series of seven Stieglitz tours on the Gallery’s website. The present book is the result of the third phase, and the fourth is the exhibition Alfred Stieglitz: Known and Unknown, which focuses on his lesser-known photographs. We wish to thank Eastman Kodak Company, and especially its chairman and chief executive officer, Daniel A. Carp, for their generous support of this project.
Sarah Greenough, curator of photographs, first came to the Gallery more than twenty years ago to catalogue the Alfred Stieglitz Collection. Since then she has conceived and organized many exhibitions of other photographers’ work and in the process has helped the Gallery to establish a significant collection of photographs. But she has repeatedly returned to Stieglitz’s art and to the Key Set, assembling a massive amount of information on it. This book is the fruit of her many years of research and evidence of her thorough scholarship.
Work on the Alfred Stieglitz Project began under the inspired leadership of Frances P. Smyth, editor-in-chief from 1981 to 1999, and her successor, Judy Metro, has continued to guide it with great care. Mary Yakush, senior editor, has been involved with the project since its inception, and her good judgment and skilled oversight of all its aspects have added immeasurably to its success. In the department of photographs, Janet Blyberg, research assistant, has provided excellent support and meticulous organizational skills. Julia Thompson, assistant curator in the department of photographs, and Constance McCabe, senior photograph conservator, have also contributed substantially with their extensive knowledge of Stieglitz’s printing techniques. Robert J. Hennessey, consulting photographer and a specialist in printing books on photography, has enabled us to use the latest digital technology in the creation of this publication.
The National Gallery of Art owes its greatest debts of gratitude to Miss O’Keeffe, both for the confidence she placed in the Gallery in 1949 and for her support in later years, and to her representative for the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, Juan Hamilton, whose association with the Gallery began more than twenty-five years ago. He helped select the exhibition and supervise the publication of Alfred Stieglitz: Photographs & Writings and contributed his knowledge and expertise to the present book as well. Since Miss O’Keeffe’s death in 1986 he has continued to inspire us with his commitment to the art of Stieglitz and O’Keeffe, helping to ensure the highest levels of quality in preserving, publishing, and exhibiting Stieglitz’s unsurpassed photographic legacy.
Earl A. Powell III
National Gallery of Art, Washington