Paul Robeson as "The Emperor Jones"

Paul Robeson as "The Emperor Jones"


Edward Steichen

(American, 1879-1973)

Gelatin silver print

Image: 24.1 x 19.2 cm (9 1/2 x 7 9/16 in.); Matted: 50.8 x 40.6 cm (20 x 16 in.)

Alma Kroeger Fund 2001.7



During his long, illustrious career, Edward Steichen's distinctive images, ideas, and enthusiasm as an artist and curator had a major impact on 20th-century photography. In 1923 Steichen became the chief photographer for Condé Nast Publications, producing portraits of prominent people for Vanity Fair and fashion photographs for Vogue. During the 1920s, he created a chic style of celebrity and fashion photography founded on his theatrical flair for dramatic lighting and simple props. Among Steichen's most memorable portraits of famous people is this poignant image of the world-renowned singer, actor, and political activist Paul Robeson. Here Robeson is dressed for the role of Emperor Jones, which he played first in 1924 in the stage revival of Eugene O'Neill's play, The Emperor Jones, and then again nine years later (the time of this portrait) in the film adaptation. Positioned diagonally against a simple backdrop, the singer turns his intense gaze toward camera. Steichen's skillful use of light and shade makes Robeson's face shimmer with energy and emphasizes the texture of his costume, enlivening the composition.

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Alma Kroeger Fund

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