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Alvin Langdon Coburn

(British and American, 1882–1966)

St. Paul’s from Ludgate Circus

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Object Details

Artist

Alvin Langdon Coburn

Date

1909

Medium

Photogravure

Dimensions

Image: 16 x 12 in. (40.6 x 30.5 cm)Mount: 18 3/8 × 13 1/2 in. (46.7 × 34.3 cm)Mat: 28 × 22 in. (71.1 × 55.9 cm)

Credit Line

Bequest of William P. Chapman, Jr., Class of 1895

Object
Number

62.3282

Coburn’s early years were spent in America where he became friends with Alfred Stieglitz and serve(…)

Coburn’s early years were spent in America where he became friends with Alfred Stieglitz and served as a founding member of the Photo-Secession. In 1912, Coburn moved to London and became a member of the British society of Pictorialist photographers, the Linked Ring. Coburn’s photograph of the noble dome of St. Paul’s—looming above the urban bustle and a cloud of steam from a locomotive—was published as part of his book London in 1909 and also appeared in Alfred Stieglitz’s journal Camera Work, from which this photogravure is taken. It embodies Henry James’s awed description of London as that “murky modern Babylon.”

(“Highlights from the Collection: 45 Years at the Johnson,” curated by Stephanie Wiles and presented at the Johnson Museum January 27–July 22, 2018)



As an adherent of the Pictorialist school of photography, the American Coburn worked extensively in Europe, eventually settling in London where he had become a member of the British society of Pictorialist photographers, the Linked Ring. Coburn’s photograph of the noble dome of St. Paul’s looming above the urban bustle and the cloud of steam from a locomotive was part of one of the most iconic series of photographs ever taken of London. Published as part of Coburn’s book London in 1909, they also appeared in Alfred Stieglitz’s Pictorialist periodical Camera Work, from which this particular photogravure is taken. Coburn’s vision of London is a striking pendant to Pennell’s London view in that it achieves photographically much of what Pennell captures in his mezzotint of the nighttime city. Both works embody their friend Henry James’s awed description of London as that “murky modern Babylon.” Indeed, it could be said the work of outsiders Coburn and Pennell, along with fellow American James, helped to characterize the city of London at a high point in its growth, both physically and in terms of international influence, in much the same way that the outsiders Piranesi (Venetian) and the Giuseppe Vasi (Sicilian) first codified and commercialized the visual impact of modern Rome.

(Andrew C. Weislogel, “Mirror of the City: The Printed View in Italy and Beyond, 1450–1940,” catalogue accompanying an exhibition organized by the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, curated by Andrew C. Weislogel and Stuart M. Blumin, and presented at the Johnson Museum August 11–December 23, 2012)

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