Biography of Pamela Colman Smith


Alfred Stieglitz and Pamela Coleman Smith


Photo of Alfred Stieglitz taken at about the time that he met "Pixie" Smith


The famed New York photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) first encountered Pamala Colman Smith in Manhatten in December 1906. Pamela came into Stieglitz's gallery at 291 Fifth Avenue and asked him to look at some of her drawings and watercolors. She was just twenty-eight years old and relatively unknown when they met. Stieglitz was favorably impressed by her youth, exotic appearance and her unusual art. He decided to show her work because he thought it would be "highly instructive to compare drawings and photographs in order to judge photography's possibilities and limitations."

Accordingly, on 05 January 1907, seventy-two of her drawings and watercolors went on exhibit at Stieglitzís "Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession." Smith was the first painter to have an exhibition in what, until then, had been a gallery devoted exclusively to photography. The first ten days of the exhibition were very lightly attended. Then, a review appeared in the "New York Sun" newspaper written by the well known music and art critic, James Gibbons Huneker (1857-1921), that was full of praise.

Huneker wrote that "Pamela Colman Smith is a young woman with that quality rare in either sex - imagination." He went on to call her painting entitled "Death in the House" as "absolutely nerve shattering" and said that not even Edvard Munch "could have succeeded better in arousing a profound disquiet." Huneker concluded his article by stating that because of the poetic nature of her work Pamela belonged to the "favored choir" of William Blake and his mystics.

After Huneker's review was published, the exhibition's attendance soared and, by the time the exhibition closed on 24 January 1907, almost all of her works had been sold. Stieglitz took photographs of 22 of her paintings and issued a special platinum print portfolio edition. Her show attracted far more visitors to the gallery than any of Stieglitz's previous photography shows. The success of her show is considered to be a major turning point in Stieglitz's career; he no longer was just a revolutionary promoter of photography but was now a revolutionary promoter of all the modern visual arts.

Pamela had two more exhibitions at Stieglitz's gallery: a joint showing in 1908, from 26 February through 11 March, with Willi Geiger and Donald Shaw MacLaughlin. In 1909, she had another solo exhibition from 17 through 27 March. The group exhibition in 1908 was lightly attended; however, the 1909 solo exhibition was more successful.

Photo of music and art critic, James Gibbons Huneker (1857-1921).

The last exhibition was of her "drawings in monchrome and color" recording "visions evoked by music, sketched during the concert or opera." Smith opened the exhibition on 16 March 1909 with a recital of West Indian nursery rhymes and the chanting of ballads by William Butler Yeats.

There are eleven paintings and drawings by Pamela Colman Smith which were never sold and remained in the possession of Stieglitz. They are now included within the Stieglitz/Georgia O'Keeffe Archive at Yale University. Medium resolution photos of eight these works are available by clicking on the following thumbnails:

Title: "A Dirge"

Artist: Pamela Colman Smith

Date: 1907

Physical Description: Ink and Pencil on Paper

Dimensions: 30 x 30 cm

Inscription: "To one who appreciates what this means. With good wishes from Pamela Colman Smith. January 24, 1907."

Note: The inscription is for Stieglitz; 24 January was the last day of her art exhibition at the Stieglitz Gallery at 291 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan.

Title: "Blue Cat"

Artist: Pamela Colman Smith (1878-1951)

Date: 1907

Physical Description: Watercolor with Pencil Underdrawing

Dimensions: 27 x 35 cm.




Title:  "Facing a Mosque"

Artist:  Pamela Colman Smith

Date:  Undated

Physical Description:  Watercolor

Dimensions:  34.5 x 29 cm.





Title:  "Overture, Manfred - Schumann"

Artist:  Pamela Colman Smith

Date:  1907

Physical Description:  Watercolor on Paper Board

Dimensions:  36.5 x 27 cm.





Title:  "Red Cloak"

Artist:  Pamela Colman Smith

Date:  1906

Physical Description:  Watercolor and Pencil on Paper Board

Dimensions:  36 x 28 cm.

Title: "Sea Creatures"

Artist:  Pamela Colman Smith

Date:  Undated

Physical Description:  Watercolor on Paper

Dimensions:  33.5 x 29 cm.

Title: "Sketch for Glass"

Artist:  Pamela Colman Smith

Date:  1908

Physical Description:  Watercolor and Ink on Paper

Dimensions:  36 x 23 cm.

Title:  "Sonata No. 11 - Beethoven"

Artist:  Pamela Colman Smith

Date:  1907

Physical Description:  Watercolor on Paper Board

Dimensions:  38.5 x 28 cm.


References:  1)  Stuart R. Kaplan, The Artwork and Times of Pamela Colman Smith (2009), pages 72-73.

                        2)  Richard Whelan, Alfred Stieglitz A Biography (1995), pages 218-220, 235, 237, 247, and 255.


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