The Pond – Moonlight



2015-06-26 10:26:39

'The Pond – Moonlight’ is a pictorialist photograph made by Edward Steichen in 1904. A print sold in 2006 is currently the second most expensive photograph sold at auction. The photographer

Edward J. Steichen (1879-1973) was an American photographer and painter. Regarded as an early pioneer of photography as an art form, his later career involved fashion photography, most notably for Vogue and Vanity Fair.

Although ‘The Pond – Moonlight’ is not technically a colour photograph, it does represent one of Steichen’s first forays into the creation of colour photography.

He would go on to be one of the first Americans to use autochrome – an early, widespread colour photography technique.

The photograph

‘The Pond – Moonlight’ was taken in the wetlands around Mamaroneck, New York in 1904, near the home of English-born art critic Charles Caffin. The photograph depicts a wood or copse surrounding a pond. Moonlight streams through the trees, reflecting upon the water.

UK newspaper, The Guardian, described the photograph as a “dreamy, moonlit landscape” and “rather beautiful, bearing the impressionistic quality of early photography; an experiment exploring the limits of the photographic plate.”

The photograph pre-dated commercial colour photography, popularised through the autochrome technique in 1907. Steichen created the impression of colour by manually layering light-sensitive gums over the negative and as a result each print of the photograph is unique.

The use of the technique reflected Steichen’s philosophy that photography could be ‘painterly’. ‘The Pond – Moonlight’ arguably “helped establish photography as an art form.”


Only three prints of the photograph are known to exist and “each in this trio is different in tone, in atmosphere, and in subtle detail.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art (both in New York) hold a print each. The other was sold at auction to unknown private collector in 2006.

Record sale

On February 14th 2006, a print of the photograph sold for $2,928,000 in a two-day auction at Sotheby’s, New York, setting a then world-record for the most expensive photograph sold at auction.

The print, measuring 41 by 50.8cm, was signed and dated by Steichen in crayon on the image, and was mounted, matted, framed, 1904. It sold for three times its estimated price and broke the previous record sale by over $1.5 million dollars. The print was sold to Peter MacGill, of Pace-MacGill Gallery, on behalf of a private collector.

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