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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Gertrude Käsebier

Names:
Other: Gertrude Stanton 
Other: Gertrude Stanton Käsebier 
Dates:  1852, 18 May - 1934, 13 October
Born:  US, IA, Fort Des Moines [now Des Moines]
Died:  US, NY, New York
Active:  US
 
  
One of the leading American pictorialist photographers. Kasebier learnt photography in the USA and Paris and worked with F. Holland Day, Clarence H. White and Alvin Langdon Coburn, she was actively involved in the Linked Ring Brotherhood and the Photo-Secession. Often using her family as models, she also photographed Rodin, and Stieglitz devoted the first issue of Camera Work in 1903 to her work. In 1916 she helped to establish the Pictorial Photographers of America with Clarence White and Alvin Langdon Coburn.
 
[With contributions by Pam Roberts]

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Gertrude Käsebier
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

 
  
Käsebier was the most recognized women photographer around 1900 in both pictorialism and professional portraiture. She excelled at portraying aspects of womanhood, often picturing mothers and daughters together. As a founding member of the Photo-Secession, she was closely associated with Alfred Stieglitz and was the featured photographer in the first issue of Camera Work.
 
Käsebier was born Gertrude Stanton in Des Moines, Iowa, on May 18, 1852. After her father’s death when she was twelve years old, her family moved east, where she lived with her grandmother in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, while her mother ran a boarding house in New York. Ten years later, she married Eduard Käsebier, with whom she had three children. At age thirty-seven, she began studying portrait painting at Pratt Institute and in the summer of 1894 chaperoned an art class to France.
 
While she had already won a prize in a photographic competition two years earlier, the medium did not fully attract her until this European trip. While there, she learned the technical aspects of photography from a chemist in Germany. Back in the States, she apprenticed herself to a professional photographer in Brooklyn to get a grasp on business practices and in 1897 opened her own portrait studio in Manhattan. She met with quick success and was soon praised by both amateurs and professionals as this country’s leading female practitioner.
 
In 1898, ten of Käsebier’s prints were accepted in the First Philadelphia Photographic Salon and she commenced a long relationship with the Sioux Indians from Buffalo’s Bill’s Wild West Show, as subjects for her camera. The next year, she served on the jury of the second Philadelphia salon, presented a solo show of portraits at the Camera Club of New York (which she soon joined), and opened a summer studio in Newport, Rhode Island. In 1900, she was elected to the Linked Ring Brotherhood in London and her work was included in the important New School of American Photography show, organized by F. Holland Day and hung in London and Paris. Her photographs were seen in major Photo-Secession exhibitions in New York, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C.
 
Between 1899 and 1902, seven photogravures by Käsebier appeared in Camera Notes, more than any photographer other than Stieglitz. Subsequently, when Stieglitz issued the first number of Camera Work in January 1903, he chose her as the featured photographer. Among her images were The Manger and Blessed Art Thou among Women, now icons for both her and pictorial photography. The magazine also included appreciative texts by fellow photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston and the art critic Charles H. Caffin. Käsebier eventually had a falling out with Stieglitz (not an uncommon occurrence for him), leading her to resign from the Photo-Secession in 1912. Until about this time, her creative photographs were seen in innumerable exhibitions and salons throughout Europe and the United States.
 
Käsebier’s husband died in 1910, after which she combined her portrait studio and living space. At this time, she also started to involve herself with different photographic groups. She taught at Clarence H. White’s new summer school in Maine, and served as the president of the Women’s Federation of the Photographers’ Association of America. In 1916, she helped found the Pictorial Photographers of America, an effort to continue the aesthetics of the Secession, and was designated its honorary vice president. The same year, she had a one-person exhibition at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences.
 
In 1925, Käsebier’s eyesight began to fail, and two years later she retired, though her daughter, Hermaine Turner, continued operating the studio. The last retrospective during her lifetime occurred in 1929, at the Brooklyn Institute. Gertrude Käsebier died at Hermaine’s home in New York, on October 13, 1934. 
  
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012) 
  
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission. 
  
Date last updated: 1 June 2013. 
  
SHARED BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION PROJECT 
  
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
 
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.
 
  

Biography provided by Focal Press 
  
Opened a New York portrait studio (1897) where she created a reputation for her mother and child motifs that stressed tonality over formal compositional elements. Known as the leading woman pictorialist, she produced platinum, gum-bichromate, bromoil, and silver prints, and encouraged women to take up photographic careers. Founding member of the Photo-Secession in 1902. Stieglitz promoted her highly romantic work, reproducing it in Camera Work. Eventually, she broke contact with Stieglitz over the issue of "straight" photography, forming the Pictorial Photographers of America in 1916 with Coburn and C. White. 
  
(Author: Robert Hirsch - Independent scholar and writer) 
  
Michael Peres (Editor-in-Chief), 2007, Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th edition, (Focal Press) [ISBN-10: 0240807405, ISBN-13: 978-0240807409] 
(Used with permission) 
  

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Thumbnail
Edward Steichen
Facsimile of a photograph in color of Mrs. Gertrude Käsebier 
1908, January
 
  
Family history 
  
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch. 
  
alan@luminous-lint.com
 
  
 
  

Exhibitions on this website

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20th century masters
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Visual indexes

 
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Supplemental information

 

Gertrude Käsebier
American, 1852-1934

Gertrude Käsebier, while studying painting in her late thirties, shifted her interests to photography. With a minimum of professional training, she decided to become a portrait photographer and opened a studio in 1897. Success came very quickly and she was recognized as a major talent by Alfred Stieglitz who brought her into the Photo-Secessionist group and reproduced a number of her photographs in the first issue of Camera Work. Käsebier, was well known for her work in portraits, employing relaxed poses in natural light. She emphasized the play of light and dark, and allowed the sitter to fill the frame so little room was left in the edges of the photograph. In addition, Käsebier was very creative and talented in the printing process. Her background in painting gave her the ability to manipulate the surface of her photographs producing beautiful images that often have a painterly quality. The University Gallery at the University of Delaware is the repository of the largest collegiate collection of Gertrude Käsebier photographs. Barbara Michaels wrote a book on Käsebier in 1991 entitled, Gertrude Käsebier: The Photographer and Her Photographs.
 
[Contributed by Lee Gallery] 
  
 

Internet biographies

Terms and Conditions

 
Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer.Show on this siteGo to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online (www.groveart.com) has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
Show on this siteGo to website
The International Photographers Hall of Fame has provided a biography.Show on this siteGo to website
 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

 
• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
  
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.102 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
  
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.277-278 
  
• International Center of Photography 1999 Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection (New York: A Bulfinch Press Book) p.219 [Includes a well written short biography on Gertrude Käsebier with example plate(s) earlier in book.] 
  
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Gertrude Käsebier.] 
  
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.172-173 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 
  
 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

 
• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.251 
  
• Lahs-Gonzales, Olivia & Lippard, Lucy 1997 Defining Eye: Women Photographers of the 20th Century. Selections from the Helen Kornblum Collection (Saint Louis Art Museum, D.A.P.) [Gertrude Käsebier is included in this overview of women photographers.] 
  
• Naef, Weston 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum - Handbook of the Photographic Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) p.115, 116 
  
• Naef, Weston 2004 Photographers of Genius at the Getty (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) [For this photographer there is a description and three sample photographs from the Getty collection. p.76-79] 
  
• Newhall, Beaumont 1982 The History of Photography - Fifth Edition (London: Secker & Warburg) [One or more photographs by Gertrude Käsebier are included in this classic history.] 
  
• Szarkowski, John 1973 Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art) p.56 [Analyzes a single photograph by Gertrude Käsebier.] 
  

Collections

Photographic collections are a useful means of examining large numbers of photographs by a single photographer on-line. 
  

 
In the 1990 survey of 535 American photographic collections Gertrude Käsebier was represented in 64 of the collections. Source: Andrew H. Eskind & Greg Drake (eds.) 1990 Index to American Photographic Collections [Second Enlarged Edition] (Boston, Massachusetts: G.K. Hall & Co.) 
  
 
  
 
  
 
  
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