Photographic portrait of Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913)

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Edward Steichen
New York, 1903
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The American photographer Edward Steichen captured this portrait, the most famous image of J. Pierpont Morgan, in 1903 when he was only 24 years old. Steichen landed the gig through his friend and fellow photographer Alfred Stieglitz, the editor and founder of Camera Work and later proprietor of the Photo-Secession Gallery (popularly known as "291"). Steichen was tasked with photographing Morgan so that a painter, Fedor Encke, could work from the image instead of painting Morgan from life (his sitter could not stop fidgeting in his chair). Steichen himself would be permitted to keep the negative. After capturing a first exposure, which survives in a small number of prints, Steichen directed the financier to move his hands into a different position, which Morgan found uncomfortable. Steichen counter-proposed that his subject should sit in a more natural manner, and so Morgan repositioned himself. But this time he was tense, gripping with his hand the chair's metal arm, which Morgan's biographer Jean Strouse has likened to a gleaming dagger. Coupled with his intense glare and posture, the effect created an intimidating portrait, one that Steichen said expressed his sitter's "dynamic self-assertion." After the session Morgan said to Steichen, "I like you, young man. I think we'll get along first-rate together," and paid the photographer $500 in cash. Later, when the prints were developed, Morgan loved the first exposure but hated the second and tore it to pieces. He would eventually come round to the second exposure, however, and asked Belle Greene to order several prints from Steichen. Greene "admired immensely" this portrait of her boss, whom she would later describe as "my Mr. Morgan."


"Masterpieces tour St. number 1"--Back of frame.

"Steichen MDCCCCIII copyright"--Front of photo.

Photographic portrait of J. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913).