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Foursome: Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe, Paul Strand, Rebecca Salsbury

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A captivating, spirited account of the intense relationship among four artists whose strong personalities, passionate feelings, and aesthetic ideals drew them together, pulled them apart, and profoundly influenced the very shape of twentieth-century art. New York, 1921: Alfred Stieglitz, the most influential figure in early twentieth-century photography, celebrates the succ A captivating, spirited account of the intense relationship among four artists whose strong personalities, passionate feelings, and aesthetic ideals drew them together, pulled them apart, and profoundly influenced the very shape of twentieth-century art. New York, 1921: Alfred Stieglitz, the most influential figure in early twentieth-century photography, celebrates the success of his latest exhibition--the centerpiece, a series of nude portraits of the young Georgia O'Keeffe, soon to be his wife. It is a turning point for O'Keeffe, poised to make her entrance into the art scene--and for Rebecca Salsbury, the fiancée of Stieglitz's protégé at the time, Paul Strand. When Strand introduces Salsbury to Stieglitz and O'Keeffe, it is the first moment of a bond between the two couples that will last more than a decade and reverberate throughout their lives. In the years that followed, O'Keeffe and Stieglitz became the preeminent couple in American modern art, spurring each other's creativity. Observing their relationship led Salsbury to encourage new artistic possibilities for Strand and to rethink her own potential as an artist. In fact, it was Salsbury, the least known of the four, who was the main thread that wove the two couples' lives together. Carolyn Burke mines the correspondence of the foursome to reveal how each inspired, provoked, and unsettled the others while pursuing seminal modes of artistic innovation. The result is a surprising, illuminating portrait of four extraordinary figures.


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A captivating, spirited account of the intense relationship among four artists whose strong personalities, passionate feelings, and aesthetic ideals drew them together, pulled them apart, and profoundly influenced the very shape of twentieth-century art. New York, 1921: Alfred Stieglitz, the most influential figure in early twentieth-century photography, celebrates the succ A captivating, spirited account of the intense relationship among four artists whose strong personalities, passionate feelings, and aesthetic ideals drew them together, pulled them apart, and profoundly influenced the very shape of twentieth-century art. New York, 1921: Alfred Stieglitz, the most influential figure in early twentieth-century photography, celebrates the success of his latest exhibition--the centerpiece, a series of nude portraits of the young Georgia O'Keeffe, soon to be his wife. It is a turning point for O'Keeffe, poised to make her entrance into the art scene--and for Rebecca Salsbury, the fiancée of Stieglitz's protégé at the time, Paul Strand. When Strand introduces Salsbury to Stieglitz and O'Keeffe, it is the first moment of a bond between the two couples that will last more than a decade and reverberate throughout their lives. In the years that followed, O'Keeffe and Stieglitz became the preeminent couple in American modern art, spurring each other's creativity. Observing their relationship led Salsbury to encourage new artistic possibilities for Strand and to rethink her own potential as an artist. In fact, it was Salsbury, the least known of the four, who was the main thread that wove the two couples' lives together. Carolyn Burke mines the correspondence of the foursome to reveal how each inspired, provoked, and unsettled the others while pursuing seminal modes of artistic innovation. The result is a surprising, illuminating portrait of four extraordinary figures.

30 review for Foursome: Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe, Paul Strand, Rebecca Salsbury

  1. 4 out of 5

    Vivek Tejuja

    I had only known of Georgia O'Keeffe before reading this book. The others were merely names till I read this biography. Of course, I was aware that Alfred was Georgia's mentor and love, but that's that. This book is not about the gossip, as much as it is about art and what it does to artists. Foursome is a read about four brilliant artists and their place in the world. It is about an "inner circle" - their turmoils in relation to art, their successes, the places they lived and visited, and the r I had only known of Georgia O'Keeffe before reading this book. The others were merely names till I read this biography. Of course, I was aware that Alfred was Georgia's mentor and love, but that's that. This book is not about the gossip, as much as it is about art and what it does to artists. Foursome is a read about four brilliant artists and their place in the world. It is about an "inner circle" - their turmoils in relation to art, their successes, the places they lived and visited, and the relationship they shared with each other.  Foursome is a book that takes its time to grow on you. You cannot jump into it expecting immediate gratification as a reader. You have to be patient with it for itself to be shown to you. Burke's new impressive book Foursome is also about America in the making. This book also made me see that perhaps personal relationships (no matter how crucial to artists) are not larger than the artistic ones that develop between people who would go to any lengths for their creative passions.  The centre of Burke's research are the years from 1920 to 1934 in which the four companions (can term them that) flirted, developed and knew their passions, experimented artistically, and also saw fame - some greater, some lesser. It is almost like living in a bubble surrounded by people you can feed off artistically. And I think this is what led them to become such sources of gossip. Burke looks at all of this and more. She strives to write about what went on in the world as well, while their stories and lives were unfolding. History then becomes a parallel story-teller of sorts, drawing upon what changed and therefore how their relationships altered.  Foursome is the kind of biography that makes you want to jump right in and read more about the world at that time and the people who inhabited them. It is about people who take their chances, and are aware of their flaws, strengths, and all of it. The nature of art and its relationship with artists is of course the crux of the book but Burke goes further and gives us journal entries, letters, and conversations (some recorded, most not) that adds to the telling of lives that is fascinating, intriguing, and above all just makes you think about people who influenced the structure of twentieth-century art. 

  2. 4 out of 5

    Christina Waters

    Tangled Lives The voluminous correspondence of four charismatic companions inspires Carolyn Burke's latest forensic biography. Burke's impressive new book Foursome provides, among other things, a compelling portrait of American modernism in the making. The players here are no less than iconoclastic painter Georgia O'Keeffe and her mentor and lover, the domineering photographer Alfred Stieglitz, whose artistic circle— Edward Steichen, Arthur Dove, John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Paul Strand, and Edwa Tangled Lives The voluminous correspondence of four charismatic companions inspires Carolyn Burke's latest forensic biography. Burke's impressive new book Foursome provides, among other things, a compelling portrait of American modernism in the making. The players here are no less than iconoclastic painter Georgia O'Keeffe and her mentor and lover, the domineering photographer Alfred Stieglitz, whose artistic circle— Edward Steichen, Arthur Dove, John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Paul Strand, and Edward Weston—shaped the paradigm for American visual art. Burke's exploration expands beyond the two better-known artists to include Strand, an acolyte of Stieglitz who went on to document proletariat struggles in Mexico and various emerging nations, as well as his wife Rebecca Salsbury who for a decade was O'Keeffe's close companion. (How close? Well, you'll need to read the book to decide.) Yet it is O'Keeffe and Stieglitz who emerge most indelibly. Their mercurial, often maniacal devotion to their art and to each other practically leaps off Burke's absorbing pages. Eager to establish himself as an arbiter of the American avant garde, Stieglitz initiated the influential 291 gallery on Fifth Avenue after the Great War. Stieglitz' quest for new talent led him to a young school teacher named Georgia O'Keeffe. Upon first seeing O'Keeffe's charcoal drawings in 1915 he exclaimed, Finally a woman on paper. A woman gives herself. The moment when O'Keeffe and Stieglitz caught fire, both personally and professionally, came at the 1918 exhibition of his nude photographs. The sensual photographs of O'Keeffe's torso and breasts created a media sensation. From then on their careers became the stuff of gossip, praise, and legend. The central core of Burke's generous research, including key illustrations, chronicles the years from 1920 to 1934 in which the four companions wove a web of mutual flirtation, seduction, artistic experimentation, jealousy, betrayal, and greater, or lesser, fame. Burke quotes lavishly from what must have been a blizzard of letters among the four, as well as their other paramours. Weary of being psychoanalyzed by male critics, O'Keeffe hoped for a female interpreter and in the late '20s approached Mabel Dodge, whose artist colony at Taos had hosted D.H. Lawrence, Carl Jung, and Henry Miller. I feel there is something unexplored about woman that only a woman can explore, O'Keeffe wrote to Dodge. Taos enchanted both O'Keeffe and Salsbury, who drove out to New Mexico together in spring of 1929. We have had a beautiful relationship together and feel the need of nobody else," Beck wrote to her husband. "I am entirely myself in her company. Over the course of endless transformative discoveries, O'Keeffe's work became internationally famous. The shadow of Stieglitz was long indeed, but not long enough to contain the willful and promiscuous O'Keeffe, whose genius was matched by her stunning independence. She was the first woman to have a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1946. As Stieglitz—23 years her senior—grew crusty and narcissistic, O'Keeffe reinvented herself and her interests in New Mexico, eventually moving there permanently while Stieglitz found new female acolytes to tend his hearth and other needs. But as the letters show, their love was strong and passionate to the very end of Stieglitz' life in 1946 at the age of 81. O'Keeffe flourished for another 40 years as a painter, proto feminist, and connoisseur of the southwest. Her own fame ebbed and flowed, but what emerges most vibrantly in Burke's text is O'Keeffe's courage in rejecting the status quo. The book shows us a woman unafraid to love deeply without ever objectifying herself for a man's approval. A stunning achievement in any era. While we never catch as full a glimpse of Salsbury, Burke's pages show her as a woman in quest of elusive accomplishment. Similarly, the methodical Strand seems to have stultified true fulfillment. Stieglitz emerges as a man of great power and influence, yet Foursome's letters and Burke's analysis show him to be an unlikeable neurotic and controlling keeper of his own legacy. The courageous biographer must take her subjects—flaws, strengths, and all—and shape them into flesh and blood moments of history. Burke succeeds brilliantly. - Christina Waters ____________________________

  3. 5 out of 5

    Marzie

    3.75 stars An oddly dissatisfying biopic looking at the brief tangential moment when Paul Strand, Rebecca Salsbury, Alfried Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keefe formed an intimate art circle at the height of the New York Gallery 291 era. Everyone knows that Georgia O'Keefe is the one we remember and it is the women, and their bond of friendship that I wanted to know the most about. O'Keefe and Salsbury (also a painter) were the most interesting aspect of the book for me.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jim Razinha

    I was provided a review copy of this from the publisher through First to Read. I admit unfamiliarity with three of the foursome, though I recognize Strand and of course, O’Keeffe (I got to see an exhibition of some if her works in Oklahoma some 30 years ago, too young to truly appreciate them) and I didn’t make many notes in this reading... just absorbed. There are intimate stories here. I do not know how much is known already to students of these four, but I suspect - obviously, as the book had I was provided a review copy of this from the publisher through First to Read. I admit unfamiliarity with three of the foursome, though I recognize Strand and of course, O’Keeffe (I got to see an exhibition of some if her works in Oklahoma some 30 years ago, too young to truly appreciate them) and I didn’t make many notes in this reading... just absorbed. There are intimate stories here. I do not know how much is known already to students of these four, but I suspect - obviously, as the book had to be written - that having them all together is new, and perhaps unknown. More than a telling of their stories, Ms. Burke also frames the times that shaped them, shaped their arts. New arts to the world, new visions, self discovery and explorations. One of the things I appreciate about Ms. Burke’s exposition and sometime dramatization is that she qualifies any speculation; if she found no evidence to support suspected relationships, interactions, she doesn’t embellish. Or at least those parts of her narrative where she caveats “tempting to think ... but impossible to know" would indicate. We tend to think in two dimensions, and might think of a "foursome" as a rectangle/quadrangle, but they were rather a tetrahedron, with Steiglitz at the apex for most of their relationships. O'Keeffe eclipsed him in fame and ascended to that apex, but his ... seniority ... tended to prevail. This is not to say that any of the other three were not their own people, individual and distinct. Clearly, they were, but he was the progenitor of that foursome. They fed off of each other. Built. And also held each other at bay. To preserve their individuality. This is about the people, and much less their arts, which serve to support here but not stand center. So what do I take away? Well, I looked up Salsbury's reverse oils on glass, and Stieglitz's and Strand's photographs. And I revisited O'Keeffe. And I have things to think about. ​

  5. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Connolly

    Carolyn Burke's Foursome examines the confluence of artists' lives and the emergence of modern American Art in their wake. Covering a period from the turn of the century into the 1950s, the book uses epistolary evidence to shed light on the loves and lives of Alfred Stieglitz (the Captain Ahab of American photography, if not art itself); Georgia O'Keeffe, a singular artist and esthete; photographer/film maker Paul Strand; and, reverse glass painter Rebecca "Beck" Salsbury James. It's a thoroughl Carolyn Burke's Foursome examines the confluence of artists' lives and the emergence of modern American Art in their wake. Covering a period from the turn of the century into the 1950s, the book uses epistolary evidence to shed light on the loves and lives of Alfred Stieglitz (the Captain Ahab of American photography, if not art itself); Georgia O'Keeffe, a singular artist and esthete; photographer/film maker Paul Strand; and, reverse glass painter Rebecca "Beck" Salsbury James. It's a thoroughly enjoyable survey of the period (of which I seem to be having a moment with) and chiefly the huge influence Stieglitz, and then O'Keeffe, had/have on America modern art's origins and most cherished traditions. Interestingly, both of the women featured came from great wealth, while the men were relative paupers, and you can easily see how over the years the dynamic would make and break the various relationships. Overall, I was most interested in O'Keeffe, whose art and orientation to life is so utterly fascinating; Stieglitz came off rather craven, and a philanderer -- but without him, much of the American scene might never had taken off. Strand was an unknown to me, although some of his photography, especially of Wall Street, was especially familiar, and remarkable. Beck, the daughter of the impresario who brought Wild Bill Hikock show to the masses, was also unknown to me, and her story is the closest to how most mildly-talented artists of her time, and possibly now, rise to some fame. I did tire of the foursome's squabbling, and O'Keeffe's utter obstinance, but I remain haunted by the latter's grip on the American imagination and wish now to find a biography of her and her alone.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Monical

    This dry and draggy tome reports incredible detail on the intertwined lives of four artists. I know Georgia O'Keeffe's work and am vaguely familiar with Steinglitz, but I guess my lack of interest and scorn for the incestuous nature of the art world made for a total disregard for this particular book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mejix

    Maybe more than 3 stars but definitely not 4. Not a whole lot of insight but very well researched and solid. Restrained when narrating some outrageous behavior. Bottom line: Stieglitz was kind of an idiot.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Elisa

    I liked this. Inclusion of lots of new details fromrecently available correspondence made parts I knew already more interesting.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Linda Gaines

    Interesting facts about the four artists. I've read several of O'Keeffe's life but this gave some new information. The photography and paintings were illustrated in several places within the book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    Fascinating story of Stieglitz, his power and influence and the other 3 artists and their escape from that influence.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

  12. 5 out of 5

    My crazy book

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ruth Feathers

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

  15. 4 out of 5

    Krzysztof Mathews

  16. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

  17. 4 out of 5

    Raechel Manrodt

  18. 5 out of 5

    Edward Newman

  19. 5 out of 5

    Zenkob

  20. 4 out of 5

    Taylor Rowe

  21. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa

  22. 5 out of 5

    Gail Devine

  23. 4 out of 5

    Doug

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jenn

  25. 4 out of 5

    Missy Kennedy

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nancy R. Inman

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kara Koppanyi

  28. 4 out of 5

    Laura

  29. 4 out of 5

    Denees

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mary

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