Gertrude Käsebier (American, 1852-1934) Clockwise:

Self Portrait, ca. 1912, platinum print, Woman Reading, ca. 1910, platinum print, Dancing School, ca. 1905, gum bichromate print, gifts of Hermime Turner

Gertrude Käsebier was born in 1852 in Des Moines, Iowa, daughter of John and Muncy Stanton. When she was still very young, Käsebier moved to Colorado where her father eventually became owner of a gold mine in Leadville. The trip across the plains by covered wagon and the frontier life near Indians sparked the imagination and adventuresome personality of Käsebier.

Käsebier returned east to attend the Moravian Seminary for Girls in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In 1874, she married Edward Käsebier, a successful businessman with traditional values who was a native of Wiesbaden, Germany. Käsebier’s first trip to Europe was to meet her husband’s relatives in Germany. The Käsebiers lived in Brooklyn and had three children: Frederick W., Gertrude Elizabeth, and Hermine Mathilde.

With the duty of establishing a family behind her, at age 36 Gertrude Käsebier enrolled in the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn to study painting. She found an opportunity to go to Paris in 1896 by chaperoning a group of art students from Pratt. She took her daughters as well and spent the next two years in France and Germany. During this time, Käsebier began experimenting with her camera and became interested in the aesthetic treatment of photography.

Back in New York, Käsebier abandoned painting and opened a photography studio. Early exhibits of her work, at the Pratt Institute in 1897 and at the New York Camera Club in 1899, were well received and Gertrude Käsebier became known for the impressionistic, pictorial style of her photography. Alfred Stieglitz was an admirer of her work, and in 1902 she became a founding member of the Photo-Secession movement. In 1903, the first issue of Camera Work featured Gertrude Käsebier’s photography. She was elected the first woman member of London’s Linked Ring in 1900; and with Alvin Langdon Coburn and Clarence White, she co-founded Pictorial Photographers of America in 1916. Gertrude Käsebier continued her successful career with portrait work and pictorial assignments for magazines until five years before her death at age 82. She died in 1934 in New York City.

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