Trained as a lawyer in Germany, Fred Stein and his wife were forced to flee from Dresden to Paris as the Nazis rose to power. It was in his new temporary home of Paris that Stein utilized the new technology of the 35mm handheld Leica to innovate street and portrait photography. An early exponent of street photography, Stein’s photographs captured his human subjects with tenderness and dignity, such as Children Reading the Newspaper, Paris (1936) and Grandmothers, Paris (1934). He had a keen eye for design and detail, as shown in his photographs of urban vignettes and composed still lifes, such as Place de la Concorde, Paris (1937) and Three Chairs, Paris (1937). His work reflects his humanist values and his mastery of formal techniques while also evoking the inescapable turmoil of the unique moment in history.
After spending seven years in France, with the outbreak of the Second World War, the Steins escaped to the United States with their young daughter. Building on the themes he began exploring in Paris, Stein continued developing his talents as a street and portrait photographer. He later became best known for his portraits of major figures of the 19th century, including Albert Einstein, Willem de Kooning, Georgia O’Keeffe, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Marc Chagall. Fred Stein died in 1967.
The work of Fred Stein is held in the permanent collections of numerous museums internationally, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; International Center of Photography, New York; National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.; National Portrait Gallery, London; among other important institutions. A large retrospective of Stein’s work will open in Hannover at the Sprengel Museum later this year. A documentary film about Stein’s life, written and directed by Dawn Freer, and produced and co-directed by noted cinematographer, Peter Stein, the artist’s son, will be released to coincide with the Sprengel Museum exhibition.