New book by Carolyn Burke examines four artists who profoundly shaped 20th-century art

book cover of Foursome by Carolyn Burke
Carolyn Burke (photo by Paul Schraub)
Carolyn Burke (photo by Paul Schraub)

Foursome, the latest book by longtime UCSC humanities research associate Carolyn Burke, chronicles the lives of four of the most extraordinary and influential painters and photographers of the early 20th century.

A biography of two of the most famous artist couples of the era, it follows the careers of Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Paul Strand, and Rebecca Salsbury as they made a ‘quiet challenge to those who refused to see photography as art.’

Offering insight into an important period in American art, the book ranges from Stieglitz’s controversial 1921 New York exhibition, featuring his works of an unidentified nude, to time spent in Taos, New Mexico, where the foursome became an integral part of the town’s art scene.

Just published by Knopf in March, the 432-page book includes 43 black and white, plus 24 color, illustrations.

The New York Times described it as a “fascinating, well-told history,” adding that the book is based largely on recently available correspondence among the four artists.

In an article titled “Five Hot Books,” The National Review noted: 

"In her deeply researched and richly imagined book, Burke focuses on two marriages in a way that amplifies the personal and artistic lives of a quartet of painters and photographers and magnifies their powerful influence on 20th-century art–and on one another...Burke, reflecting her deep insight into these vastly creative artists, makes ingenious connections in their correspondence and art that powerfully demonstrate that even while plagued by tensions and rivalries, they elevated one another’s work."

Burke’s previous book Lee Milller, A Life, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 2006. A biography of the iconic Vogue model turned World War II photojournalist, it was also a finalist for The National Book Critics Circle Award.

Burke is additionally the author of No Regrets: The Life of Edith Piaf and Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy.

A biographer, art critic, and translator, Burke has taught at UC Santa Cruz, Princeton, and UC Davis; at the Universities of Western Sydney and New South Wales in Australia; and at the Sorbonne and the University of Lille in France.

Her writing has additionally appeared in such venues as Art in America, Vogue, La Nouvelle Revue Francaise, and The New Yorker.

Burke will discuss her new book on April 10 at The Commonwealth Club of San Francisco.