The Art of the Plant – Edward Steichen

Great images by artists and photographers who've been inspired by our natural world
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Delphiniums by Edward Steichen, 1940. Dye imbibition print, 33 °— 23.4 cm / 13 °— 91/4 in George Eastman Museum, Rochester, New York. From Plant
Delphiniums by Edward Steichen, 1940. Dye imbibition print, 33 °— 23.4 cm / 13 °— 91/4 in George Eastman Museum, Rochester, New York. From Plant

Our new book, Plant: Exploring the Botanical World, surveys the wide variety of botanical representations though the ages, with 300 of the most beautiful and pioneering images ever. Professional botanists and botanical illustrators have produced many of these images. However, fine artists created many others. Edward Steichen, the 20th century photographer, painter and curator was also a keen horticulturalist, and not only photographed but also grew the plants in the picture above.

“Steichen is renowned as one of the leading photographic practitioners of the twentieth century,” we explain in our new book. “Less widely known is his passion for delphiniums (he was president of the Delphinium Society of America). This magnificent photograph brings together both of Steichen’s interests. Its composition displays the varying growth habits and heights of the subjects, while the sense of balance is underlined by the darkest shades appearing at the bottom of the image. Colour-coding emphasizes the height of the palest blooms, while added tension is created by the knowledge that the photograph was taken when World War II was already raging in Europe.

 

Edward Steichen with delphiniums (c. 1938), Umpawaug House (Redding, Connecticut). Photo by Dana Steichen. Gelatin silver print. Edward Steichen Archive, VII. Image courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art Archives
Edward Steichen with delphiniums (c. 1938), Umpawaug House (Redding, Connecticut). Photo by Dana Steichen. Gelatin silver print. Edward Steichen Archive, VII. Image courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art Archives

Steichen pursued his passion for gardening alongside his career as a photographer. From his twenties, he focused on breeding delphiniums at his farm in Connecticut, where he devoted 4 hectares (10 acres) to the programme, selecting only about one plant in forty and ploughing the rest under.

"Real cut flowers of Steichen’s delphiniums were shown in a dedicated exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in June 1936, in what can be seen as one of the earliest bio art events. The flowering spikes were displayed in colour-coded relays during the week-long event; first the true or pure blue, then the fog and mist shades.”

You can learn more about Steichen’s work in The Photography Book; and you can also check back soon for more fine art cultivars extracted from Plant: Exploring the Botanical World. Buy a copy of this new book here.

The cover of  Plant: Exploring the Botanical World


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