Edward Steichen, The Painter, at Boca Raton Museum of Art

May 14, 2020

It is hard to imagine the American art history without Edward Steichen, a pioneering practitioner and a figure responsible for the emergence of fashion photography. However, what is little known about this prolific photographer that he was also a gifted painter according to the recently rediscovered large-scale mural called In Exaltation of Flowers which he painted from 1911 to 1914.

To revisit the destiny of this exceptional work in the light of Steichen’s painterly domains, The Boca Raton Museum of Art is putting on a show featuring all nine recently restored pieces..

Left Edward Jean Steichen - In Exaltation of Flowers Rose, Geranium Right Edward Jean Steichen - In Exaltation of Flowers
Left: Edward Jean Steichen - In Exaltation of Flowers: Rose, Geranium, 1910. Tempera and gold leaf on canvas, 120 ×55 in. / Right: Edward Jean Steichen - In Exaltation of Flowers: Golden Banded Lily, Violets, ca. 1910-1913. Tempera and gold leaf on canvas, 120 ×55 in. Courtesy Art Bridges

The Story of Steichen’s Murals

Namely, before becoming an established photographer, Edward Steichen was commissioned by Eugene Meyer and his wife Agnes to produce a mural for the foyer of their Park Avenue townhouse. Although he painted seven Art Nouveau panels ten feet tall each, they were never installed since the Meyers experienced financial issues and had to sell the estate.

The mural was in entirety shown only once at Knoedler Gallery in New York in 1915, and afterward, it remained rolled up in the Meyers storage at their New York residence until the 1970s when Agnes Meyer died; then the family passed the mural to MoMA, which exhibited once one of the panels and eventually sold the series to Art Bridges.

Left Edward Jean Steichen - In Exaltation of Flowers Petunia Right Right Edward Jean Steichen - In Exaltation of Flowers Gloxinia
Left: Edward Jean Steichen - In Exaltation of Flowers: Petunia, Caladium, Budleya, ca. 1910-1913. Tempera and gold leaf on canvas, 120 ×100 in. / Right: Edward Jean Steichen - In Exaltation of Flowers: Gloxinia, Delphinium, ca. 1910-1913. Tempera and gold leaf on canvas, 120 ×55 in. Courtesy Art Bridges

The Symbolism Behind In Exaltation of Flowers

The mural is inspired by the book The Intelligence of Flowers by the Symbolist writer Maurice Maeterlinck, but they were also driven by Steichen’s passion for horticulture; the photographer was a keen gardener, specialized in growing delphinium).

Along with the flowers, each work depicts the women from the Meyers’ and Steichen’s circle of friends, such as the artists Katharine Rhoades and Marion Beckett, the mezzo-soprano and dancer Mercedes de Cordoba, and the dancer Isadora Duncan, along with Agnes Meyer and her daughter Florence.

Interestingly so, the only male figure depicted symbolically is the Detroit industrialist Charles Lang Freer who was known as a passionate collector of Asian art.

Left Edward Jean Steichen - In Exaltation of Flowers Coleus, The Florence Meyer Poppy Right Edward Jean Steichen - In Exaltation of Flowers Petunia
Left: Edward Jean Steichen - In Exaltation of Flowers: Coleus, The Florence Meyer Poppy, ca. 1910-1913. Tempera and gold leaf on canvas, 120 ×55 in. / Right: Edward Jean Steichen - In Exaltation of Flowers: Petunia, Begonia Rex, The Freer Bronze, 1913. Tempera and gold leaf on canvas, 120 ×55 in. Courtesy Art Bridges

Edward Steichen at Boca Raton Museum of Art

The murals will be accompanied by the photographs taken by Steichen that are held at the Boca Raton Museum of Art’s collection to complement the intriguing narrative consisting of the floral references, biographical details, and historical context.

The Boca Raton Museum of Art will re-open to the public on June 3, 2020, and this show has been extended until January 3, 2021.

Edward Jean Steichen - In Exaltation of Flowers, 1910-1913
Edward Jean Steichen - In Exaltation of Flowers, 1910-1913. Tempera and gold leaf on canvas, two canvases: 120 × 100 in.
five canvases: 120 × 55 in. Courtesy Art Bridges

Q & A: Edward Steichen: In Exaltation of Flowers

Featured image: Edward Jean Steichen - In Exaltation of Flowers: Clivia, Fuchsia, Hilium, Henryi, ca. 1910. Courtesy of Art Bridges.

Follow These Artists

Follow These Galleries

ArtWise

Brooklyn, New York, United States of America