Book Reviews - Spring 2019

Prophets of the Avant-Garde

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How two power couples changed the world of art

By Meryle Secrest | March 4, 2019
Rebecca Salsbury and Paul Strand (courtesy of the publisher)
Rebecca Salsbury and Paul Strand (courtesy of the publisher)

Foursome: Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Paul Strand, Rebecca Salsbury by Carolyn Burke; Knopf, 432 pp., $30

This is the story of four talented people: Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, and Rebecca Salsbury, who met by chance and remained involved with one another for the rest of their lives. Rather like partners in a quadrille, that 19th-century British craze and forerunner of the square dance, they bowed, circled, advanced, retreated, formed new patterns, and incidentally brought further perspectives to the often-told story of their lives. This latest attempt was made possible by newly available collections of letters, the raw material for Carolyn Burke, widely admired for her portraits of Mina Loy, Lee Miller, and Edith Piaf.

There is, of course, nothing new in the history of artists’ forming close relationships and influencing each other. Modigliani had Chaim Soutine and Ossip Zadkine. Gauguin had Van Gogh, and Mary Cassatt had a lifelong friend and mentor in Edgar Degas. What is unusual here is the durability of the friendships, which lasted despite major differences and geographic isolation. This tight little circle formed around a mentor, the photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Early in the 20th century, he was in the advance guard of artists who realized that America was far behind Europe in its ponderously academic approach to the arts.

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