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HomeContents > People > Photographers > James L. Breese

Born: James Lawrence Breese 
Dates:  1854 - 1934
Born:  US, NY, New York City
Died:  US, NY, Southampton
Active:  US
Background provided by Mark Sink (5 August 2015)
James L. Breese was best friend of architect Stanford White who did design work for both his New York townhouse and studio at 5 West 16th street and his Southampton country estate (both still standing). He was the nephew of the portrait artist, inventor of the telegraph and co-founder of the National Academy of Design, Samuel Finley Breese Morse ( aka "The father of American Photography"). He was a leading light in New York's turn-of-the-century social and artistic upper crust. James L. Breese owned and operated the Carbon Studio in partnership with pictorialist Rudolf Eickemeyer Jr., who later became a member of Alfred Stieglitz's The Photo Secession and The Linked Ring. Breese's then famous "One of 1001 Nights" salons would begin at midnight, at 5 West 16th, "at the foot of women's mile."Artists, writers and society secretly gathered for lascivious intrigue. The documented and published highlights were dresses catching fire to be extinguished with champagne, "The Pie Girl Dinner", a naked sixteen year old girl to poping out of a pie, and "the girl in the red velvet swing." His circle of bohemian friends and guests included such remarkable personalities as Miss Emily Hoffman, the mother of Diana Vreeland, Dana Gibson, Louis Saint Gaudens, John Singer Sargent, Nicola Tesla, Otto Chushing, Miss Post, the Parsons, the DeForests, Evelyn Nesbit and many more. Together they staged elaborate historical party tableaux which Breese photographed for his private amusement. He was the founder and an active member of the NY Camera Club, won many awards, and was cataloged in Camera Notes many times. He and Stieglitz were the only two Americans (out of sixty American applicants) to be accepted in an exhibition in Vienna 1893, which Breese took first prize. He wrote and illustrated articles for Cosmopolitan (1894), one titled The Relationship Of Photography To Art.. He was heavily chronicled and his exhibitions reviewed during his day. The most noted was by critic Edward L. Wilson, who wrote of Breese and his work, "true and interesting picture qualities" and, "the leader of New York's new school." Another review by Sadakichi Hartman gushes about Breese and pans Steiglitz. Like so many of his contemporaries very little is known about him today. The well known historians, William Welling, Christian A. Peterson and the director of the National Portrait Gallery, Mary Panzer, have all made generous entries about Breese in their historical texts and publications of the period and they all agree there is much more to be unearthed and brought to light about this bohemian group that called themselves "The Carbonites".
A cachet of Breese's extraordinary photographs--carbon prints, lantern slides and glass negatives-- mostly portraits of New York society in the 1890's has been recovered from the basement of a family descendant in Santa Fe, New Mexico and they are now available for display and publication for the very first time. Together with Mr. Breese's extensive and completely organized personal files, photographic chemical notes and newspaper archives they form a fascinating and unique portrait of a rarefied slice of turn-of-the-century New York.

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