Frye Art Museum

photo by Jill Berarducci

Seattle, Washington



Hollywood Celebrity: Edward Steichen's Vanity Fair Portraits

July 27 - September 16, 2001


In 1923, the society magazine Vanity Fair heralded Edward Steichen (American, b. Luxembourg, 1879-1973) as the greatest living portrait photographer. Within a year, publisher Condé Nast appointed him chief photographer of Vanity Fair and its fashion counterpart, Vogue. For the next thirteen years, Steichen was America's premier photographer of style, taste, and celebrity. While his work at Vanity Fair embraced numerous genres, Steichen is best remembered for creating the icons of his age--movie personalities whose likeness, in print or on the screen, helped shape America's popular culture. Hollywood Celebrity: Edward Steichen's Vanity Fair Portraits, will be on view at the Frye July 27 - Sept. 16, 2001.

More than mere reflections of a single personality, Steichen's Hollywood portraits were cultural manifestations of the American public's consuming fascination with celebrity and fame. In the 1920s and 1930s, Hollywood was America's foremost entertainment industry, its stars the industry's most potent and alluring product. In the Hollywood portraits, Steichen infused his imagery with theatrical lighting and progressive ideas of design drawn from major art movements of the day, such as the streamlined forms of art deco and the elemental constructions of cubism. The men, including Fred Astaire and Charlie Chaplin, boast all the genteel accouterments of a refined elegance coupled with robust individuality. The women, among them Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, project a liberated, self-possessed demeanor. (left: Fred Astaire, 1927, gelatin silver contact print, George Eastman House)

As seen in this exhibition, Steichen magnified the illusion of celebrity to often mythic proportions, creating enduring works that would assume an iconic presence in the minds of the American public, then and now.

Hollywood Celebrity: Edward Steichen's Vanity Fair Portraits was organized by George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film with support from the Garnett Foundation.

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