The Alfred Stieglitz Collection and the Art Institute of Chicago


On December 9, 1949, the Art Institute of Chicago’s director, Daniel Catton Rich, wrote to his friend Georgia O’Keeffe, the well-known painter and widow of Alfred Stieglitz: “I am happy to inform you that the Trustees of the Art Institute at their recent meeting in November, accepted with great appreciation your splendid gift of paintings, sculpture, drawings, etchings, prints and photographs, to the Alfred Stieglitz Collection.”[1] Including later additions by O’Keeffe, the gift would ultimately total nearly four hundred works, including 244 photographs, 159 by Stieglitz himself. It added enormously to the museum’s holdings of modern American art and utterly transformed the collection of photographs.


Considered as a whole, the Stieglitz Collection reflects the enormous diversity of Alfred Stieglitz’s activities. Through his own dedicated photographic work over the course of a half century, the journals he edited and published (such as Camera Notes and Camera Work), and the groundbreaking exhibitions he organized at his New York galleries (including 291, the Intimate Gallery, and An American Place), Stieglitz tirelessly promoted photography as a fine art, gathering around him first Pictorialist and then modernist photographers. He was unmatched both in his advocacy of modern European painters and sculptors—including Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Auguste Rodin—and in his support of emerging contemporary American artists such as Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, and Georgia O’Keeffe. The variety of his interests was on full display in his publications and exhibitions, where photography could be found alongside historical precursors and modern contemporaries in other media.


Stieglitz’s vast collection had already begun to fragment during his own lifetime. He donated twenty-seven of his own prints to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1924, followed by twenty-two photographs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1928, both gifts representing the first photographs to be accepted into either museum’s collection. However, he was ambivalent about what to do with his ever-expanding collection of work by other artists—a disordered assemblage gathered over the decades, including gifts and purchases from artists he showed at his galleries as well as works bought from other exhibitions, such as the Armory Show of 1913. As O’Keeffe put it, “He always grumbled about the Collection, not knowing what to do with it, not really wanting it, but in spite of the grumbling it kept growing until the last few years of his life.”[2] In 1933, Stieglitz had been on the verge of destroying a portion of the collection, over four hundred priceless photographic prints by his colleagues and peers, the storage fees for which had become a financial burden; instead, he was convinced by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to deposit them there.[3] As he grew older, Stieglitz anticipated the difficulties that future stewards of his collection would face. He told an interviewer in 1937: “I am nearly seventy-four. [W]hat is going to happen to all this if I should die tonight? There is not an institution in this country prepared to take this collection. . . . Broken up, these individual items would be interesting and valuable. But together they are more than that. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”[4]


When Stieglitz died in 1946, O’Keeffe immediately embarked on a major project to reshape and disperse the collection, assisted by Doris Bry and in consultation with Daniel Catton Rich and the curators James Johnson Sweeney and Alfred Barr of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. O’Keeffe’s decision to divide the works among public institutions was a pragmatic one, given the size of the collection. It also represented her commitment to the transmission of Stieglitz’s ideas to the widest possible audience. As she wrote, “It is impossible for me to give the Collection to any one institution and expect his ideas to be housed. The Collection ha[s] grown too large. . . . If the material is not being seen, opinion is not being formed. Having in mind that pictures should be hung, I had to divide it, as I always told him.”[5]


The task of pairing works with their respective destinations proved to be arduous, as O’Keeffe described in a 1948 letter to Rich:


It is baffling—too many things to decide. —I have been working quite steadily on the photographs. I had thought it would take about two weeks. . . . I’ve been at it about a month instead . . . I didn’t intend to have so many groups of photographs but the prints are there—it is difficult to think of selling them—I cannot keep them—they seem too good to destroy—I will be glad when it is finished.[6]


In 1949, O’Keeffe donated representative groups of works to a number of institutions including the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and several others (a complete list is below). Between 1950 and 1952, further gifts were allotted to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the George Eastman House. During this time the Art Institute’s group was enhanced with the addition of a group of autochromes. O’Keeffe chose the Art Institute as one of the recipient museums because of “its central location in our country,” but her personal connections to the museum played a role as well: she was close with Rich and his family, and she had studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.[7] While Stieglitz’s collection as a whole reveals both his remarkable artistic career as well as his discerning eye, its distribution reflects the arbitration of O’Keeffe, who defined how and where the works would be viewed.


As Stieglitz’s chosen medium, photography comprised a special category of the collection, and the group of photographs donated to the Art Institute was second in size only to the “key set” grouping given to the National Gallery of Art, which consisted of an example of every print Stieglitz had mounted and kept in his possession at the time of his death. Of the original 231 photographs and photogravures given to the Art Institute in 1949, which at the time constituted the entirety of the museum’s photography collection, 151 were by Stieglitz himself, spanning from his early student days in late nineteenth-century Germany to his more experimental period in Lake George in the 1930s. In her 1948 letter to Rich, O’Keeffe described these photographs by Stieglitz as “very handsome.”[8] An additional eighty prints by other artists tell the story of his role as a critical figure in the history of photography. These include prints by nineteenth-century practitioners, such as Julia Margaret Cameron and David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, whom Stieglitz saw as predecessors; those of Pictorialists James Craig Annan, F. Holland Day, Gertrude Käsebier, and Heinrich Kühn, as well as early pictures by Edward Steichen, all of which Stieglitz had championed in the pages of his journal Camera Work; and works by Paul Strand and Ansel Adams, younger modernist photographers whom Stieglitz had mentored.


While in 1949 O’Keeffe could not have foreseen the possibilities offered by digitization, the Art Institute of Chicago’s The Alfred Stieglitz Collection: Photographs supports her intention to make the works available to as wide an audience as possible. The site also demonstrates the unique qualities of the prints in the collection of the Art Institute in particular and situates them in the larger context of Stieglitz’s sphere of influence. It is the hope of the authors that the platform introduces new pathways of understanding this seminal group of works, which was shaped as much by O’Keeffe’s foresight as by Stieglitz’s acumen as a collector.


—Jennifer R. Cohen

Andrew W. Mellon Chicago Object Study Initiative (COSI) Research Fellow, 2014–15



[1] Daniel Catton Rich to Georgia O’Keeffe, Dec. 9, 1949, Department of Photography Files, Art Institute of Chicago.

[2] Georgia O’Keeffe, “Stieglitz: His Pictures Collected Him,” New York Times Sunday Magazine, Dec. 11, 1949, p. 24.

[3] Dorothy Norman, An American Seer (Aperture, 1973), pp. 235–36.

[4] Alfred Stieglitz, interview, New York Herald Tribune, Nov. 10, 1937, quoted in Norman, An American Seer, p. 200.

[5] O’Keeffe, “Stieglitz: His Pictures Collected Him.”

[6] Georgia O’Keeffe to Daniel Catton Rich, Feb. 23, 1948, Art Institute Records.

[7] O’Keeffe, “Stieglitz: His Pictures Collected Him.”

[8] Georgia O’Keeffe to Daniel Catton Rich, Feb. 23, 1948, Art Institute Records.


In addition to the photographs highlighted on this website, the Alfred Stieglitz Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago also includes paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints. Those works can be seen here.


The following institutions also house portions of the Alfred Stieglitz Collection:

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Carl Van Vechten Gallery, Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee

George Eastman Museum, Rochester, New York

Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Museum of Modern Art, New York

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

This site features detailed information on the 244 photographs in the Alfred Stieglitz Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago. In addition to more general information about the artists, processes, and themes relevant to the collection, the site features individual artwork pages that include resources useful to readers interested in closer study of the works.


Exhibition and Publication Research

Our research on the exhibition and publication histories of these photographs draws heavily upon three sources: Sarah Greenough, Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set: The Alfred Stieglitz Collection of Photographs, volumes 1 and 2 (National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2002); Weston Naef, The Collection of Alfred Stieglitz: Fifty Pioneers of Modern Photography (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1978); and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s digitized collection of Pictorialist photography exhibition catalogs, 1891-1914, which was donated to the Thomas J. Watson Library by Alfred Stieglitz in 1922. The information on this site is the result of ongoing research and is subject to change.


Image Gallery

Each artwork page includes a gallery of images, which may include the following: the print recto (front) with full original mount or mat (when present), the full-sheet recto (in cases when an original window mat crops the photographic sheet), the verso (back) of the print or original mount, photomicrographs of the print surface, reproductions from Camera Work or Camera Notes, and installation views of the work in exhibitions that took place during Stieglitz’s lifetime.



Additional context and research is provided under three headings:


Object Research

This includes download links to large images of the recto and verso of each photograph and an Object Research PDF containing:

  • Full Object Information. This includes the artist’s names, nationality, birth and death dates, as well as the artwork’s title, date, medium, dimensions, credit line, Art Institute of Chicago accession number, and rights information.
  • Stieglitz Estate Number or “Leica Number.” The cataloguing system used by Georgia O’Keeffe and her assistant, Doris Bry, to organize the mounted prints in Stieglitz’s possession when he died was based on assigning similar prints from the same negative a shared number, often written on the back of the photograph’s mount. The term “Leica number” does not originate from Stieglitz—who never used a Leica camera—but from the 35 mm Leica camera O’Keeffe and Bry used to document the estate before dividing it among the recipient institutions.
  • Inscriptions. Any writing on the photograph or mount, with the exception of the Art Institute’s own institutional markings, has been described by location, medium, and author (when known). When the inscribed numbers correlate to the catalogue numbers of exhibitions, this has been noted as well.
  • The dimensions of the prints have been listed in centimeters, height followed by width, beginning with the image size. When the original mount or presentation is present, this has been noted, and the dimensions of subsequent mounts follow in order of proximity to the print. A thickness measurement of the sheet was included when available.
  • Technical Summary and Material Research. Forty-four prints in the Stieglitz Collection were more closely studied by conservators. For more on this aspect of the site, please read the About Materials Research section.


Key Sources

This includes links to selected exhibition catalogues, related photographs, correspondence, and published reproductions of the artwork. The exhibition catalogues and reproductions listed have been limited to those published during Stieglitz’s lifetime.


In Other Stieglitz Collections

This links to prints from the same negative in other museums and institutions that received portions of the Stieglitz Collection, when permanent weblinks to those objects are available. For more on the Stieglitz Collection as a whole, as well as the specific works of art given to the Art Institute of Chicago, read the About the Collection section.

A significant portion of the research presented on this site was performed by conservators and conservation scientists.


Among the basic data gathered on every object are the dimensions of the prints and original mounts or mats; the thickness, gloss, and color measurements when obtainable; and visual documentation of the artwork’s recto, verso, and original mount or mat. Much of this information has been included in the Object Research PDF found on each artwork page.


Aided by different lighting, ultraviolet (UV) or infrared radiation, and magnification, conservators examined each object in order to confirm the medium and the photographic process used to create the print. In some cases this was combined with nondestructive analysis methods, such as X-ray florescence spectroscopy (XRF) and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). Photomicrographs and photographs documenting these examinations are included on the individual artwork pages.


In addition, closer analysis was given to forty-four objects, chosen because they were either representative of the range of the collection or because they were unique photographic objects. These works can be found under the Materials Research glossary entry. The results of this analysis, including a technical summary of each work and XRF and FTIR data when gathered, has been included in the Object Research PDF on the artwork pages of these forty-four objects.




Photomicrographs show the surface of a print at high magnification and can reveal the texture of the photographic surface, retouching by the artist, and, in some cases, embossed markings.


Paper thickness was determined using a calibrated micrometer to measure the thickness of the photographic support between two thin sheets of Mylar. Measurements were not taken when the print was mounted overall onto a secondary support.


Surface sheen, or gloss was recorded using a BYK-Micro-Tri-glossmeter, which measures the diffuse reflection of light at the surface by projecting a beam of light at a fixed angle. Data are given in gloss units (GU) and angle of measurement.


Colorimetry translates the physical perception of color to numerical values that quantify and separate light into its equivalent color wavelengths of light to dark, green to red, and yellow to blue. Data are given as L*a*b* numbers. Measurements were taken from original mounts and the verso of the photographic paper itself when accessible.


Ultraviolet-induced visible fluorescence can be used to distinguish the presence of materials such as optical brighteners, varnishes, or organic-based adhesives. Substances on the surface of an artwork may exhibit fluorescence in characteristic colors in response to UV radiation, depending on age and chemical composition. This fluorescence is visible to the naked eye and can be documented photographically. Afterward more in-depth analyses (such as FTIR) can be performed to define a material. Unless otherwise noted, examinations were done under long-wave UV radiation.


X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF) can indicate the presence of certain metallic elements by detecting the characteristic fluorescent X-rays emitted from a sample that has been exposed to a primary X-ray source. When analyzing photographs, XRF can help determine if certain elements make up the image material itself or were used as part of the chemical developing process. For the objects subjected to XRF analysis, a graph of the XRF spectra and an accompanying interpretation can be found in the Object Research PDF. The photographs were analyzed on a specially constructed acrylic table that provided open air space below the prints and caused no interference to the beam. XRF spectra were acquired from the darkest, maximum-density (Dmax) areas of each print and the lightest, minimum-density (Dmin) areas of each print. Background spectra for the analyzer and mounting materials are also included.


Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) is an analytical technique used to reveal the presence of certain organic compounds. A photograph is exposed to an infrared beam containing a variety of wavelengths. The absorption or emission of these wavelengths by the sample is analyzed, and since each organic compound reacts differently to specific beams, the resulting spectra can be used to discern the composition of organic binders, varnishes, or coatings on photographs.


Infrared photography can be performed using a standard digital camera with infrared sensitivity enabled, to record the excitation, absorption, and emission of infrared radiation by molecules in a sample when viewed under normal light. This technique is frequently used by painting conservators to detect the carbon black component of an underdrawing through the paint layers and to reveal any alterations made by the artist in the final image. For the artworks on this site, infrared photography has been used to increase the visibility of otherwise hidden graphite inscriptions on dark gray mounts.

This website was produced by the Departments of Photography and Digital Experience at the Art Institute of Chicago.


In the Department of Photography, Curatorial Assistant Ariel Pate served as project manager, content creator, and researcher for the site, while Samuel H. Kress Conservation Fellow Kaslyne O’Connor conducted the in-depth materials research on the photographs in the Stieglitz Collection. Their work was undertaken in conjunction with Elizabeth Siegel, Associate Curator of Photography, who contributed to and oversaw the site’s art historical content, and Conservator Sylvie Pénichon, who reviewed all materials research and treatments of the photographs.


Key contributions to the site were made by other Department of Photography staff under the leadership of Matthew S. Witkovsky, Richard and Ellen Sandor Chair and Curator: Grace Allen, intern to the project; Jennifer R. Cohen, Andrew W. Mellon Chicago Object Study Initiative (COSI) Research Fellow; Barbara Diener, Collection Assistant; A. Kaspar, Conservation Assistant; and Heather Roach, Collection Manager. Significant input was also provided by Wilson McBee, Assistant Editor in the Department of Publishing.


Collaborators in the Department of Digital Experience included Michael Neault, Executive Director; Kelly McHugh, Project Coordinator, and Kirsten Southwell, Interaction Designer; and in the Department of Information Services, Tina Shah, Senior Web Applications Developer.


Other Art Institute staff who were instrumental to the production of this website include Jessica Applebee, Assistant to the Chair in the Department of Photography; Michael Bingaman, Web Technology Coordinator, Department of Information Services; Francesca Casadio, Andrew W. Mellon Senior Conservation Scientist; Céline Daher, Post-Doctoral Conservation Fellow; Kristi Dahm, Associate Conservator of Prints and Drawings; Anne Danberg, Reference Librarian; Natasha Derrickson, Associate Registrar; Kelly Keegan, Assistant Conservator of Paintings; Troy Klyber, Intellectual Property Manager, the Office of Legal Counsel; Maria Kokkori, Stockman Family Foundation Research Fellow in the Department of Conservation; Krista Lough, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Photograph Conservation; Autumn Mather, Head of Reader Services, the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries; Jennifer Oatess, Director of Foundation and Government Grants; Michal Raz-Russo, Assistant Curator of Photography; Bart Ryckbosch, Archivist; Martha Tedeschi, Deputy Director for Art and Research; and Frank Zuccari, Grainger Executive Director of Conservation and Senior Paintings Conservator.


The close study of photographs by Alfred Stieglitz presented here is greatly indebted to groundbreaking work accomplished by Sarah Greenough in her two-volume catalogue raisonné, Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set: The Alfred Stieglitz Collection of Photographs (National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2002). Greenough’s research clarified titles, dates, and exhibition and publication histories, and has become the standard reference for Alfred Stieglitz’s work; her findings are accordingly reprised in the Stieglitz entries on this web module.


Many people from outside the Art Institute helped along the way, and they are gratefully acknowledged: Jana Hill and Emily Olson (Amon Carter Museum of Art); Claudia Rice (Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust); Eva Grieten (University of Antwerp); Adrienne Leigh Sharpe (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University); Adrienne Lundgren (Library of Congress); Mark Gaipa (Modernist Journals Project, Brown University and the University of Tulsa); Lisa Barro, Silvia Centeno, Robyn Fleming, and Nora Kennedy (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); Mitra Abbaspour and Lee Ann Daffner (Museum of Modern Art, New York); Sarah Greenough and Constance McCabe (National Gallery of Art, Washington); Alison Miner and Nathaniel M. Stein (Philadelphia Museum of Art); Kate Bussard and Anne McCauley (Princeton University); Douglas Severson; Francesca Calderone-Steichen (Estate of Edward Steichen); Philip Klausmeyer and Eliza Spaulding (Worcester Art Museum); and Leslie Squyres (Volkerding Center for Research and Academic Programs, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona).


Several scholarly collections provided assistance, either through the supplying of scans or the allowing of direct links to their sites, amplifying the information found here. Thanks are owed to the Thomas J. Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, which hosts the collection of Pictorialist photography exhibition catalogues in the Joyce F. Menschel Photography Library; to the Modernist Journals Project of Brown University and the University of Tulsa, which has digitized its collection of issues of Camera Work; and to the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, which houses the Alfred Stieglitz/Georgia O’Keeffe Archive and provided scans of selected correspondence found on this site.


This project has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Additional support has been provided by the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation, funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.