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Greta Garbo, Hollywood

Around 1914, Edward Steichen switched his photographic style from a pictorialist approach to a new realism that emphasized sharp focus, abstraction, dramatic lighting, and close ups. The transition coincided with his work for the magazine publisher Condé Nast in the 1920s and 1930s. Despite the commercial nature of his portraits, Steichen brought a remarkable inventiveness to his celebrity images. The stark simplicity of this photograph also grew out of necessity. Steichen shot Greta Garbo in a makeshift studio on the set of her film A Woman of Affairs. When he complained about her terrible curly hairdo, Garbo pushed every strand away from her face. Steichen recalled, “At that moment, the woman came out, like the sun coming out from behind dark clouds. The full beauty of her magnificent face was revealed.”

Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection includes several other Steichen portraits of famous performers: Gloria Swanson (Eskenazi Museum of Art 76.100.4), Paul Robeson (Eskenazi Museum of Art 76.100.5), and Isadora Duncan (Eskenazi Museum of Art 76.66.6).

Edward Jean Steichen
American, 1879–1973
Greta Garbo, Hollywood for Vanity Fair
1928 (published 1930)
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 ½ x 7 ½ in. (24.1 x 19.0 cm); sheet: 10 x 8 in. (25.4 x 20.3 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 76.66.5