On February 18, 1913 – one day after the Armory Show opened its doors in New York City – Alfred Stieglitz wrote a congratulatory note to AAPS president Arthur Davies, stating, “A vital blow has been struck…You have done great work.” Although Stieglitz did not officially participate in the organization of the Armory Show, he played an important role as both lender and collector.
Stieglitz, who shared the organizers’ enthusiasm for promoting modern art in America, lent works by two of the most controversial avant-garde artists: Matisse and Picasso. Prior to 1913, both artists were relatively unknown to the American public. Stieglitz, however, was quite familiar with their works, as he had previously organized three Matisse exhibitions (1908, 1910, and 1912) and one Picasso exhibition (1911) at his 291 Gallery. His loan to the Armory Show included six of Matisse’s drawings, as well as Picasso’s charcoal Standing Female Nude and his bronze bust Head of a Woman. The latter two works were important examples of the Cubist aesthetic, although they were overshadowed in the press by Marcel Duchamp’s more controversial Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2).
Only three days after the exhibition’s opening, Stieglitz purchased a pastel drawing by Davies – a gesture of both encouragement and solidarity. He then went on to buy eight additional works, including a series of five Archipenko drawings, one Cézanne lithograph, and a Manolo bronze sculpture.
However, Stieglitz’s most radical (and expensive) purchase was Wassily Kandinsky’s Improvisation 27, for which he paid $500. In a letter to Kandinsky, Stieglitz described the rationale behind his purchase: “I really had no moral right, nor even the money to buy your picture,” and yet he was so “incensed” at those who failed to recognize the work’s importance that he “decided to buy it.” Stieglitz was keenly aware that such a bold purchase would attract attention, for he aimed to “influence people to look at the picture, which I thought of importance to themselves.” Stieglitz thus continued to assert himself as a leading figure among America’s growing avant-garde.
The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution is on view October 11, 2013 through February 23, 2013 at the New-York Historical Society.