F. Holland Day


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Photographer. A major figure in the pictorialist movement, he notably starred as Jesus in striking interpretations of the life of Christ. His romantic, often softly focused images also include landscapes, portraits, and dreamy figural compositions. Day's control over effects of natural light, his delicately balanced compositional harmonies, and the originality of his vision complement his dedication to beauty. In the late 1890s Day audaciously turned to Christian subjects popular in late nineteenth-century painting, devoting in particular the summer of 1898 to producing more than two hundred religious photographs. The images include scenes such as the Crucifixion, the Descent from the Cross, and the Resurrection, along with seven images illustrating the last words of Christ. These close-ups display his own bony, bearded face, surmounted by long hair and a crown of thorns, in a variety of attitudes suggesting suffering and resignation. In portraits, Day particularly pictured exotic individuals, including American Indians, African Americans, and a protégé, the photogenic Lebanese-American poet and artist Kahlil Gibran (1883–1931). Especially after 1900, Day composed many classical idylls featuring young men, often nude, in natural settings. Born in Norwood, Massachusetts, Fred Holland Day grew up there and in nearby Boston and was for the most part privately educated. He began to photograph in the late 1880s as an adjunct to his literary interests, particularly a devotion to John Keats. On frequent trips to England, he assembled a vast collection of Keats material, promoted establishment of a memorial, and photographed sites associated with his life. In Boston during the 1890s he attracted a circle of aesthetes: artists, writers, and musicians attuned to the international fashion of art for art's sake and to rarified psychic and occult pursuits. Between 1893 and 1899, as a partner in Copeland and Day, he published nearly a hundred finely designed books in the spirit of the Arts and Crafts movement. In 1900 he arranged a huge London exhibition of recent American art photography, which for the first time brought together the leaders of the movement in a high-profile venue and successfully challenged British preeminence. Alfred Stieglitz's refusal to send his work signaled the rivalry already distancing art photography's two leaders, whose personalities and aesthetic goals were incompatible. Later, spurning Stieglitz's invitation, Day remained the most prominent pictorial photographer outside the Photo-Secession. For about twenty years until 1917, Day usually summered in Maine, where he eventually built a large house on Georgetown Island. In 1904 his Boston studio burned, destroying nearly all work still in his possession as well as his collection of Japanese artifacts. In subsequent years, the pace of his photographic work diminished. He rarely photographed after 1917, when he retired into seclusion at his family home in Norwood. Adopting the lifestyle of an invalid, he died there sixteen years later.

Subjects: Art.

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