Pictorialism had been the last achievement of the nineteenth century, favoring atmosphere and privacy and neglecting the documentary interest. Coburn is one of the last Pictorialists, but his meticulous work in the darkroom allows new effects.
Made in 1905, Shadows and reflections, Venice, is his most famous image of that period. The small Venetian bridge is not identifiable. A woman wisely holds the strong point of the composition. A double exposure of the positive with two different techniques breaks realism in favor of dreams by introducing a warm shade and blurring the foreground reflections in the canal.
This picture has been published by Camera Work in 1908. In the same issue, an anonymous commentator who was probably Stieglitz treated Coburn of 'favored child', indirectly consecrating that this nonconformist was even ahead of the Photo Secession.
A print 36 x 29 cm was sold for $ 365K including premium at Christie's on 27 April 2004. This piece comes back for sale at Sotheby's in New York on December 11, lot 11 estimated $ 350K.
Coburn continued his pioneering work. In 1913, Octopus is his masterpiece. This image of a park is figurative, but the reinterpretation of the paths as arms of an octopus fascinates the viewer. In 1917, his Vortographs achieved through a complex set of mirrors anticipate the abstract and geometric researches of Bauhaus, Constructivism and Man Ray altogether.
A Vortograph 27 x 20 cm was sold for $ 600K including premium by Sotheby's on April 1, 2014. Another one is estimated $ 300K by Sotheby's on December 11, lot 12 in the same sale as above.
Vortograph : unsold