The Maypole, Empire State Building, 1932
Gelatin silver print, printed circa 1960. 16 1/2 x 13 1/2 in. (41.9 x 34.3 cm). Signed, dated by the artist, titled, dated, annotated 'printed 1960's' in an unidentified hand in pencil and Museum of Modern Art label on the reverse of the mount.
PROVENANCE From the Collection of Joanna Steichen; to the present Private Collection
LITERATURE Doubleday, A Life in Photography: Edward Steichen, pl. 313; Photo Poche, Edward Steichen, pl. 55; Steichen, Steichen's Legacy: Photographs, 1895 - 1973, pl. 198
As skyscrapers began blossoming around New York City in the early decades of the 20th Century, their novelty was likewise increasing, and demand for editorials featuring architectural photography grew in tandem. It is not surprising, therefore, that Vanity Fair commissioned Edward Steichen to photograph the Empire State Building in 1932, at the time the tallest building in the world. The popularity of Steichen's work was widespread, gaining him commissions by stylish socialites, Hollywood sirens, powerful politicians, and magazine editors. When Steichen was approached by Vanity Fair to photograph the iconic landmark, he approached the assignment with the sensitivity of a portraitist and the exactitude of a documentarian. Knowing that the awe-inspiring effect of the building could go amiss in a photograph, Steichen laid one negative on top of another and carefully controlled the toning. The resulting image infuses the building with a powerful sense of three-dimensionality and a high level of energy. Of the famous shoot Steichen has noted, "I conceived the building as a Maypole…to suggest the swirl of a Maypole dance." The fear of diminishing the building's effect, consequentially, was innovatively overcome. Further distinguishing the photograph is a label from MoMA's "Art Lending Service", affixed to the verso. The service, which began in 1951 and lasted for three decades, was initiated by the Museum's Junior Council as a means of encouraging art collecting by members of the public. The works, whether consigned by galleries or picked by the museum's roster of curators, were available for renting for up to three months, after which individuals had the option of returning the works to the museum or purchasing them. Each work was of the highest caliber, and popularity of the service, fittingly, was high. The Maypole, originally from the collection of Joanna Steichen, was surely among the most popular photographs to have passed through MoMA's "Art Lending Service." It is a testament of the technological advancements in architecture as much as in photography, and the iconic legacy of one of the sharpest eyes to have captured both.