Vol. 1 Luxembourgers in the United States: Edward Steichen

Edward Jean Steichen was a Luxembourgish American photographer, painter, and curator, who is widely renowned as one of the most creative and influential figures in the history of photography. 

Steichen was born in 1879 in Luxembourg to Jean-Pierre and Marie Kemp Steichen. In 1881 the family moved to the United States and settled in Hancock, MI and later moved to Milwaukee, WI. Steichen was educated in German and English at school, while speaking Luxembourgish at home.

Edward Steichen painted and worked in lithography, before undertaking photography in 1896, and first exhibited photographs at the Philadelphia Salon in 1899. He practiced painting in Paris intermittently between 1900 and 1922; there he met Rodin and was exposed to modern art movements. He was elected a member of London's Linked Ring Brotherhood in 1901, and in 1902 cofounded the Photo-Secession and designed the first cover of Camera Work, in which his work was often published. In New York, Steichen helped Alfred Stieglitz establish the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, which became known as "291", and in 1910 he participated in the International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography in Buffalo. 

During World War I, Steichen directed aerial photography for the U.S. Army Expeditionary Forces. From 1923 until 1937 he worked for the Conde Nast publications, Vogue and Vanity Fair and freelance commercial work. He raised the standards of fashion and commercial photography, taking portraits of the likes of Chaplin, Gershwin, Mencken and Garbo.

World War II found him commissioned as a lieutenant commander and eventually he became director of the U.S. Naval Photography Division. There he oversaw combat photography and organized the exhibitions Road to Victory and Power in the Pacific

In 1947, two years after he retired from the Navy, Edward Steichen became the director of the Photography Department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His tenure saw over 50 shows of photography, including what has become the most famous photographic exhibition of all time, The Family of Man, which opened in January, 1955. The main purpose or theme of the exhibit, according to Steichen, was to create “a mirror of the essential oneness of mankind.” The exhibit toured for eight years. It saw 37 countries on 6 continents and holds the record for the highest attendance of any exhibition. In 1994, the final and complete version of the exhibition was permanently installed in Clervaux Castle in Luxembourg.

Edward Steichen received innumerable awards and honors, including Knighthood in the French Legion of Honor, an Honorary Fellowship in the Royal Photographic Society, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Art Directors Club of New York Award, U.S. Camera Achievement Award for "Most Outstanding Contribution to Photography by an Individual," (1949) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963). Major shows of his work have been held at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, ICP, and the George Eastman House.

Learn more about Edward Steichen’s life and work

“A portrait is not made in the camera but on either side of it.” Edward Steichen
“A portrait is not made in the camera but on either side of it.” Edward Steichen

Last update