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This report is taken from PN Review 29, Volume 9 Number 3, January - February 1983.

Alvin Langdon Coburn, Centenary 1882-1966 Michael Weaver

[This is an extract from an addendum to the catalogue of the Coburn exhibition organized by the Royal Photographic Society, The Octagon, Milsom Street, Bath (£1.50 post free), to be shown next at the John Hansard Gallery, University of Southampton, September 20 - October 23 1982.]


All the classic American photographers-Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand-lived to a great age, and Coburn, who became a British subject in 1932, was no exception. Unlike his compatriots, however, Coburn appeared to give up his photographic career prematurely and showed no desire to become either a seer or the dean of museum photography. Accordingly, he has been unjustly neglected on both sides of the Atlantic.

Coburn's work may be seen generally in the traditions of American Orientalism from Emerson to William James, and the European Post-Impressionism of the Nabis-Bonnard, Vuillard, and Maurice Denis. The Symbolist movement represented by Anglo-American interest in Maurice Maeterlinck, the Belgian mystical writer and playwright, locates his thought more specifically. Yeats, Symons, Henry James, Granville Barker, Georg Brandes, Israel Zangwill, Max Beerbohm, and Herbert Trench, who produced the famous allegorical play for children, The Blue Bird, on which Coburn's Fairy Gold was modelled, were influenced by Maeterlinck, and Coburn photographed all of them. He had read him since 1899, probably an essay by him on Emerson in Poet-Lore (Boston, Spring 1898), illustrated his Intelligence of the Flowers (1907), and finally made his portrait in 1915, when he might have noted that the famous playwright had ...


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