Balzac, The Silhouette, 4 a.m.

Accession Number

Balzac, The Silhouette, 4 a.m.

Edward Steichen

Artist Nationality
American (North American)

Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
photogravure on paper

8 1/4 in x 11 3/4 in (20.96 cm x 29.85 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Maxine and Lawrence K. Snider

Subject matter
Edward Steichen's photographs of Balzac's sculpture transform a static figure into a ghostly silhouette emerging from a hazy landscape. The images are evocative and brooding. Rodin had been commissioned for his statue of Balzac by the Société des Gens de Lettres in 1891; however, in 1898, the group refused it. Ten years later Rodin invited Steichen to photograph the sculpture in hopes of realizing his vision for the sculpture. After Steichen noted that the plaster statue appeared harsh and chalky in the daylight, Rodin moved the sculpture out of the studio and into the open air set on a rotating platform in the garden. Steichen spent two nights, from sunset to sunrise photographing by the light of the moon. He moved around the sculpture to find the best angle and moved his camera according to the trajectory of the moon. Exposures lasted up to an hour each. Rodin responded to the photographs, “You will make the world understand my Balzac through these pictures. They are like Christ walking in the desert.” The photographs were exhibited in the Photo-Secession Gallery in 1909, Steichen’s last show with Stieglitz, and then three were published in Camera Work in 1911. In 1939, the statue was cast in bronze and placed in the streets of Paris.

Physical Description
This photogravure is one of a series of photographs by Edward Steichen commissioned by Auguste Rodin of his statue of the French writer Honoré de Balzac. Created at 4:00 a.m., a cloaked and silhouetted figure stands in a misty landscape. 

Primary Object Classification

Collection Area

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figures (representations)
landscapes (representations)
men (male humans)

& Author Notes

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