Albumen photograph on paper, 7 3/4 x 5 inches
Alice Boughton (American 1866-1943)
Along with Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen, one must consider the extraordinary photographer, Alice Boughton. There is much information about her personal life that remains a mystery, but she was an important artist who worked within an impactful photography movement, becoming an important contributor to the Pictorialists and the Photo-Secession. Alice Boughton was born on May 14, 1866 in Brooklyn, New York. She began studying art and photography at Pratt Institute in the 1880’s. While there she studied with one of the most renowned female photographers of the time, Gertrude Kasebier, and while still in school she became her assistant. During this time, Kasebier was a member of the Photo-Secession movement led by Alfred Stieglitz and F. Holland Day; their goal was to promote photography as an independent fine art medium. Boughton opened her own portrait studio in New York in 1890, her subjects prominent literary and theatrical figures, as well as children; she is especially remembered for her photographs of the female nude in an allegorical or natural setting. She became sought-after, with sitters that included celebrities such as Ellen Terry, William and Henry James, George Arliss, Myra Hess, Arthur Davis, Julia Ward Howe, Dr. Abraham Jacobi and Yvette Guilbert. She also dabbled in landscapes in both the United States and in Europe. The studio remained open for forty years, and in 1928 a collection of her portraits was published as “Photographing the Famous.”
Around 1901 Boughton traveled to Rome and Paris , winning an honorable mention for her photography at the Turin International Decorative and Fine Arts Exhibition. She returned to work with Kasebier in her summer studio. Boughton found her own artistic, photographic voice–soft-focused portraits in natural settings, experimenting with methods such as platinum and bromide printing. In 1902, Stieglitz’s admiration and support led him to include her work in the first Photo-Secession exhibition at the New York’s National Arts Club, and he welcomed her into his exclusive Photo-Secession group featuring her in the famed quarterly, Camera Work, April 1906,. her photographs accompanied by an article she wrote about the endless limitations of photography as a fine art medium. Soon after this publication Boughton’s work was exhibited both at the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession with C. Yarnall Abbott and William B. Dyer, and internationally in London, Paris, Vienna, and New York.
Around 1920, she shared her studio with artist Ida Haskell, an instructor at Pratt. Haskell had taught both Boughton and Kasebier , and in 1926, they traveled together. It is thought that they had a romantic relationship. Alice embodied the early 20th century “New Woman,” women who were breaking gender norms, dominating the workforce, becoming active members of society, and creating beautiful and impactful art in a male-dominated art form.
Her work is in the permanent collections of major museums including the British and American National Portrait Galleries, the George Eastman House, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As Boughton aged, she closed her studio and destroyed thousands of prints, retiring to Brookhaven where she died of pneumonia age 77.