Nocturne - Orangerie Staircase, Versailles, 1908
Luxembourger, American, 1879
gum bichromate print
29.5 x 38.3 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 33361)
Popularized in the 1870s paintings of James McNeill Whistler, the nocturne, or night scene, was a visual trope for artists drawn to metaphysical renditions of reality. It permitted them to orchestrate the extremes of silhouetted areas and sharp glimmers of light, and to maintain an enigmatic quality in their pictures. Placing a single accent of light on the pediment of the orangery at Versailles, Steichen draws attention to the upper portion of the print in this otherwise murky and deeply silhouetted scene. Around the same time he made this work, he created his iconic Balzac, The Silhouette – 4 a.m. outside the studio of French sculptor Auguste Rodin.