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‘shadows and reflections, venice’

  • USA
  • 2014-12-12
About the object
Gum-platinum print, on a triple mount, signed in pencil on the secondary mount, titled and annotated '34' (circled) and with other numerical notations on the reverse, 1905
In its atmospheric evocativeness and bravura handling of technique, this large-format multiple-process print is the apotheosis of Pictorial photography.  Coburn has combined in this print two processes in separate exposures—one in platinum, the other in gum—yielding a print of complex tonality and depth.  Additionally, Coburn has emphasized elements of the image within the negative and enhanced volume, shape, and line with pigment on the surface of the print itself.   Shadows and Reflections is, like Edward Steichen's great The Pond—Moonlight, a daringly abstract image for its time.  The reflections in the canal abstract—rather than mirror—the figurative elements of the composition.  The principle subject—the shadowed figure ascending a Venetian bridge—plays a secondary role to the fascinating reinterpretation of the scene on the water’s rippled surface.  Although Coburn is justly classified as a Pictorialist during this phase of his career, he never relied upon the formulae or sentiment that ultimately limited the creative lifespan of this style.  From his earliest work with the camera, Coburn was adept at creating complex, evocative, and visually engaging images from the world around him.
A print of Shadows and Reflections was shown in the seminal 1910 International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography at the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo.  In Alfred Stieglitz’s brief introductory text in the exhibition’s catalogue he praises Coburn’s abilities with the platinum-gum process.  Stieglitz had debuted the 22-year-old Coburn’s images in Camera Work in 1904, reproducing six of his photographs and hailing him as ‘Possibly the youngest star in our firmament.’
Gifted with both an artist's eye and a deep understanding of photographic technique, Coburn always represented a wholly independent vantage point in the world of early 20th-century photography.   His capacity for incorporating abstraction into representational imagery was distinctive and new and is beautifully illustrated in Shadows and Reflections—Venice.  Coburn’s penchant for abstraction continued throughout his career, finding its fullest expression in the Vortographs he created the following decade—images which take shadows and reflections as their principle subject matter.
As of this writing, only three other prints of this image are extant: in the Alfred Stieglitz Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art; the George Eastman House; and in a private American collection.
Like the Vortograph offered in this catalogue as Lot 12, Shadows and Reflections—Venice was originally given by Coburn to his close friend Leonard Arundale, with whom he shared an abiding interest in Freemasonry.

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* Note that the price doesn’t correlate with today’s value, but only relates to the actual end price at the time of the purchase.

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