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“masterpieces of the photographic art" – Albert Einstein on Marcel Sternberger’s portraits

(Einstein, Albert.) Sternberger, Marcel. Portrait of Albert Einstein

Princeton, New Jersey, 1950, printed 2017

Gelatin silver print (16 x 20 in.). Estate Edition, a limited edition of 20 copies, embossed and numbered.

In this portrait Sternberger shows Einstein dressed informally. Einstein was keenly aware of his public image, and often attempted to show a cheerful visage. The common backgrounds of the two men helped the photographer to put Einstein in a relaxed state and to capture him in a more vulnerable pose.

Marcel Sternberger and Albert Einstein had known each other in Europe long before the two met again in Princeton, New Jersey for this session. Before the men left Europe Einstein had furnished the preface to a book written by Sternberger.

After a warm welcome and lemonade, the men settled in for the sitting. They discussed various topics including World War II and the state of American education. Although some photographs from the session show Einstein with a telltale twinkle in his eye, here the great scientist appears fatigued. The seriousness of their conversation seems to have worn him down.

Still, the conversation had its moments of levity. At one moment, Sternberger asked Einstein to remove his suspenders. Einstein replied, “I am going to lose my trousers! I can’t.” Einstein instead put on one of his trademark sweatshirts.

Here modern science’s greatest mind is forever immortalized as only Sternberger could. He has found a depth of personality exceeding photographs produced without regard to the sitter’s inner psychological state.