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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

© Estate of Edward Steichen
American, born Luxembourg, 1879 - 1973
Trees, Long Island
Carbon print

14 3/8 x 13 9/16 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Museum purchase funded by the Long Endowment for American Art and the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation

Arts of North America

In his early career, Edward Steichen firmly believed that for photography to be recognized as a serious art form, the formal qualities of the image must resemble painting. For this reason, he chose to downplay the recording function of a camera, minimizing the details of the scene in favor of a more painterly style. Here, two black trees frame a luminous chestnut tree covered with flowers that appear as though they are dabs of paint.

The primary impetus of the earliest photography was documenting people, places, and events. Steichen's early work demonstrates a departure, to a type of photography in which the maker's personal, pictorial style is paramount. Created in a Romantic vein, this 1905 photograph of trees is more about light and the mood of the setting than faithful representation.
Steichen was an important figure in American art history not only as a photographer but also as an advocate for American art, discovering and fostering artistic talent. With photographer Alfred Stieglitz, Steichen opened an art gallery in New York City. Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, more famously known as 291, introduced major European Modernists such as Paul Cèzanne, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso to American artists. Steichen's later style evolved from the vaguely defined details and textures of Trees, Long Island to exploring modes of Modernism within photography by capturing exacting details, a full range of tonal values, and convincingly solid forms.

To view specific works by Steichen in the collection, contact the museum's Works on Paper Study Center for an appointment.