Edward Steichen: Greta Garbo, Hollywood

Edward Steichen, 1879 – 1973

Greta Garbo, Hollywood


13 1/4″ x 10 3/8″

Gelatin Silver Print Ed. 15/30

Gift of Aaron Schechter and Elaine Abrams Schechter, 2002


Frank Crowninshield, editor of Vanity Fair magazine during the 1920s and 30s, called Edward Steichen the “greatest of living portrait photographers.” Steichen originally studied painting, and for a time considered becoming a professional painter, before focusing on photography while studying in France. Using a more pictorial style in the late teens and early 20s with its hallmark softer focus and traditional composition, Steichen’s work evolved into the sharp contrasts and bold composition of Modernism by the time Garbo sat for him in 1928. This portrait, and another from the same sitting, where she pushed back her hair with her hands framing her face, are two iconic images of her.

At 23 years old, Greta Garbo had been working in Hollywood for only three years and was already a major star of the Silent Era. This portrait, taken during a 5-minute shoot on the set of A Woman of Affairs, shows the actress’ beautiful face and neck illuminated above her black-cloaked figure, her hair tousled and her brow slightly furrowed. Starring opposite her frequent co-star, John Gilbert, Garbo was still two years away from her first film with synchronized sound, a “talkie.” The transition would not be seamless for many of the top actors of the Silent Era. Garbo was one who made the shift, but not without a major marketing push from MGM, the studio that produced her first sound film, Anna Christie with the tagline “Garbo talks!” John Gilbert was not able to make the transition as successfully. There is speculation that this was due to the quality of his voice, deeper research indicates that it may have been as simple as his box office draw weakening or behind-the-scenes politics.

Greta Garbo, considered one of the greatest actresses of her generation, continued to star in films for almost 20 years, maintaining control of her career and choosing roles that were meaningful for her rather than toe the line of any studio. In the early 1940s, she decided to retire from acting and the public eye.

This is Rachel Deen, I am a grad student in the Arts Administration program at Baruch College in the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences. Thank you for listening!

Background music – Julia Florida, Edson Lopes


My name is Sam Meyer, I am a graduate student in Baruch’s arts administration program.  Greta Garbo, Hollywood is a black and white photograph depicting the Swedish-American actress sitting backwards in a chair with her hands on the back of the chair. She is facing to her left away from the camera. The background is a white wall in contrast with her black clothes. Edward Steichen is known to be the first modern fashion photographer with his photos of gowns in the Magazine Art and Decoration in 1911. From 1923-1938, during which this photo was taken, Steichen was a photographer for Condé Nast, working at Vogue and Vanity Fair. He was regarded as the best known and highest paid photographer in the world.

Greta Garbo, born 1905 in Stockholm, Sweden, is regarded as one of the greatest actresses of all time. She garnered critical acclaim for her work in Anna Christie (1930), Romance (1930), Camille (1936), and Ninotchka (1939), and was nominated for the Academy Award for each film. However, after the failure of 1941’s Two-Faced Woman, Garbo retired at the age of 35, having acted in 28 films. She passed on April 15, 1990 in New York City.