Monday, July 26, 2010
Americans in Paris: Edward Steichen
In the spring of 1898, the Milwaukee papers had carried stories about a sensational art controversy raging in Paris. It seemed that, seven years before, the sculptor Auguste Rodin had been commissioneed by the Society of Men of Letters to make a statue of Balzac for the city of Paris. In the Salon of 1898, Rodin exhibited the plaster cast of the finished statue and in the opening hours of the exhibition, crowds gathered around the statue, and vehement discussions took place pro and con. When the Society of Men of Letters decided to refuse the statue, the newspapers enjoyed a heyday with the scandal, intensifying the feeling in Paris. The Balzac statue was called a monstrosity by some and by others a sack of flour with a head stuck on top.
When I saw it reproduced in the Milwaukee newspaper, it seemed the most wonderful thing I had ever seen. It was not just a statue of a man; it was the very embodiment of a tribute to genius. It looked like a mountain come to life. It stirred up my interest in going to Paris, where artists of Rodin's stature lived and worked.
From A Life in Photography in Americans in Paris: A Literary Anthology, Adam Gopnik,editor (New York: The Library of America, 2004), p. 190.