Elisabeth Meyer by Edward Steichen (1921)


Her name is spelled Elisabeth with an “s” by Lumas, the art-photography sales experts – and they should know, since they rediscovered a “lost” Edward Steichen collection in a financier’s art depot that includes this portrait. Sotheby’s spells it with a “z” – but the only relevant point is that I can’t get any information on the sitter – spelled either way.

To me she has the face of someone who went on to great things: imaginative yet determined…..the year was 1921, so she had exciting times ahead of her…

At least we know a lot about the photographer:

“Edward Steichen’s photographs are iconic in 20th century photo and art history. Steichen was at home in all areas of photography: portrait, landscape, still life, fashion, dance, theater, flowers, advertising, as well as war reportage and aerial photography. Steichen was also a painter. Originally from Luxembourg, Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz founded the legendary Photo Secession group in 1902 and actively participated in the pioneering magazine, Camera Work. Joanna T. Steichen explains that after World War I, Steichen even played with the idea of becoming a film director. Perhaps that explains why, in subsequent years, he introduced movement as a fundamental innovation in much of his photography.

What is also unique and exciting about Steichen is how he managed – committed only to quality and the joy of experimentation – to create milestone images of the 20th century that were also commercial. Starting in 1923, his magical use of light and movement, of figures and accessories, produced legendary, entrancing photos for Vanity Fair and Vogue, thereby inventing fashion photography as we know it today. He was the Director of Photography from 1947–1962 at the Museum of Modern Art New York, and in 1955, he organized the epoch-making exhibition “The Family of Man.” During its international tour, the exhibition was seen by over 10 million people – an attendance record rarely reached, even today. Steichen died in 1973 in West Redding, Connecticut. In February 2006, Edward Steichen’s hand-colored print, The Pond-Moonlight, was auctioned in New York for approximately $2.9 Million – at that time the highest bid ever placed for a photograph.” (Lumas.com)

….and while there is a group portrait of the family of Eugene Meyer (owner of The Washington Post) done by Steichen in 1926 including an “Elizabeth Meyer Lorentz”, she would have been only twelve at the time: a little young to have picked up a married name – unless possibly the full name was added to the list of sitters at a later date. He also did a single portrait of a young woman with the same name in about 1932: here are the two:

….I wouldn’t put money on it, but there is a definite resemblance to the girl in my opening portrait, and the age seems about right…..

[This is a long shot – and depends on Steichen not having shot two Elisabeth/Elizabeth Meyers at about the same time – but if it’s the same person, then my hunch about her personality wasn’t far off:

“On January 27, Elizabeth Meyer Lorentz died at age 87, in hospital at Mt. Kisco, New York, following a long illness. The New York Times ran an obituary calling her “a movie scriptwriter and author of a book on networking.” To anyone who cares about documentary film, Elizabeth was much more important than that brief description implies. In our community, she was the wife of filmmaker Pare Lorentz Sr. Known as “FDR’s moviemaker,” Pare was responsible for the classic American documentaries The River, The Plow That Broke The Plains, Nuremberg and others, including the film on which he and Elizabeth collaborated, The Fight For Life. Elizabeth is survived by her stepchildren—Pare Lorentz Jr., a notable figure in the documentary field in his own right, and Tilly Grey.

She is also survived by many others who were fortunate to know her during her long, interesting life. Most famous among these is her sister Kathryn Graham, the former publisher of the Washington Post. Eugene Meyer, Elizabeth and Kathryn’s father, bought the Post in 1933, and insight into their highly privileged upbringing can be found in Mrs. Graham’s fascinating memoir, Personal History.” (Documentary.org March 1, 2001)

…..so Kathryn Graham was her sister, and documentary filmmaking in the Great Depression her main claim to fame – and by all accounts she was a feisty lady right to the end……I really hope it’s her!! Here she is in later life, used in the obituary :]


Meanwhile here’s the great man – and in photography and C.20th art in general he really is a great:



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