An account of the intense relationship among four artists whose strong personalities, passionate feelings, and aesthetic ideals drew them together, pulled them apart, and profoundly influenced the very shape of twentieth-century art.
The dynamics among these four determined and visionary individuals—and, for a spell, two married couples—are deeply intriguing in terms of gender expectations, the role of muse, the battle to establish photography as a fine art, and the quest to push painting into provocative new modes of expression. Extracting gems from vast caches of letters, Burke follows the foursome’s artistically and erotically intertwined lives in detail, revealing their distinctive temperaments and the inspiration and anguish of their supportive and competitive interactions. Burke succeeds in portraying iconic Stieglitz and O’Keeffe with fresh insight and in elucidating Strand’s elusiveness, while the least-known of the quartet, the 'daredevil' called Beck, steals the show ... Burke’s expert and enthralling true saga illuminates key intimate and historical aspects of the lives of four extraordinarily creative, intrepid, and influential artists to profound effect.
Burke depicts with intelligent nuance the evolution of the couple’s intertwined personal and professional connection ... Burke eschews feminist outrage, preferring to quote examples of oblivious sexism with no commentary beyond such dry asides as, 'One wonders what Beck thought.' She shows Salsbury and O’Keeffe determinedly navigating a male-dominated world with the tools at their disposal ... Burke eschews feminist outrage, preferring to quote examples of oblivious sexism with no commentary beyond such dry asides as, 'One wonders what Beck thought.' She shows Salsbury and O’Keeffe determinedly navigating a male-dominated world with the tools at their disposal ... [Burke's] not interested in making grand statements, preferring to focus her sharp analytical skills on explicating in rich detail the complex interactions among four vibrant people during a seminal era in American culture — a task she accomplishes in astute, lucid prose.
This is a fascinating subject, and Ms. Burke does it complete justice, following each member of the foursome from the initial encounter with the others to their separate (and in some cases separated) deaths. That all four had unusual ideas about sexuality and honesty, as well as about creativity and art, makes for a compelling story ... Ms. Burke lets her characters do most of the talking, through their letters, diaries and reported speech; and if Strand comes across in her book as the least tangible of the foursome, it may be because many of his letters have been lost ... that prime pitfall of the biographer [is] the attempt to take a guess at what was going on behind the evidence...I was a bit surprised at the extent to which [Burke] yielded to this kind of temptation—but then, as a biographer myself, I know exactly how tempting it can be.