- I. A Franciscan, Venice.
- II. On a Dutch Shore.
- III. Frau Mathasius.
- IV. Prof. John Young, of Glasgow University.
- V. The Riva Schiavoni, Venice.
- VI. The Dark Mountains.
In <i>Study - Miss R.</i>, early twentieth-century photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn displays his affinity for experimental portraits that draw upon his love of simplicity and abstraction. Coburn (1882-1966) quickly became a notable photographer in both Britain and the United States, aided greatly in his quest by his friendship with prominent literary figures George Bernard Shaw and Gertrude Stein. Shaw and Stein introduced Coburn to the exclusive intellectual circles of London at the turn of the century, brining him a wealth of portrait subjects, included Henry James and Henri Matisse. These portraits of European cultural elite, along with others of American public figures such as Theodore Roosevelt, comprised Coburn’s published work, beginning with his first book, <i>Men of Mark</i>.
Coburn created <i>Study - Miss R.</i> while in the United States, before settling permanently in Britain and joining the ranks of artistic and literary ex-patriots settling in Europe. Spending time in the Boston area, Coburn benefited from the instruction of Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922), an Ipswich painter with many watercolor works and prints in the Addison collection. Dow and Coburn were both interested in Japanese art’s emphasis on flatness and the harmony of line, tone, and color as well as the concept of notan, the balance of light and dark. This attention to light and shadow is apparent in <i>Study - Miss R.</i>, as Coburn depicts the sitter’s pale face emerging from a background of cavernous darkness.
<i>Study - Miss R.</i> was created by Coburn in an attempt to silence several of his critics, including Sadakichi Hartmann, who referred to Coburn’s portraiture as “rather unsatisfactory” and lacking “the gift of characterization.” His subject was southern socialite Sarah ‘Landon’ Rives, who commissioned the portrait around 1904. Coburn’s brooding portrait depicts Rives staring unabashedly into the camera, with none of the traditional and passive femininity of the day. Both Rives and Coburn were intent on countering the typical picture of refined female elegance, opting instead for a portrait that is simultaneously direct and mysterious. Avoiding stereotype and going beyond mere likeness, <i>Study - Miss R.</i> evidences Coburn’s predilection for the unconventional and his desire to create portraits that suggest the sitter’s inner character and raw emotion. As Coburn aptly questioned, “Why should not the camera also throw off the shackles of conventional representation and attempt something fresh and untried?...Think of the joy of doing something which it would be impossible to classify.”<sup>1</sup>
Claire Glover ’16
1. Helmut and Alison Gernsheim, eds., <i>Alvin Langdon Coburn, Photographer: An Autobiography</i> (New York: Dover Publications, 1978), p. 86.
This object was included in the following exhibitions:Toward Resolution: Artists’ Studies from the Collection [Phillips Academy Art 300], Addison Gallery of American Art, 5/30/2014 - 7/31/2014
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