Genthe, Arnold, 1869-1942

Alternative names
Birth 1869-01-08
Death 1942-08-09

Biographical notes:

German-born American photographer.

From the description of Autograph letter signed : New York, to [Isadora Duncan], [1915 or later]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 501196416

From the description of Autograph letter signed : New York, to [Isadora Duncan], Tuesday [ca. 1915]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 501196335

Photographer and pioneer in dance photography.

From the description of Correspondence and writings, 1928-1942. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122364062

Arthur Davison Ficke (1883-1946) was a poet, author and collector of Japanese and Chinese art.

From the guide to the Arthur Davison Ficke papers, 1924-1957, 1935-1942, (The New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division.)

Genthe was a German-born photographer who lived and practiced photography in San Francisco, Calif., from 1895-1910.

From the description of Arnold Genthe letter : to Eleanor Davenport : ALS, [1910]. (California Historical Society). WorldCat record id: 122563640

Arnold Genthe, 1869-1942, photographer, classical scholar, and collector. A celebrated social photographer, he was also a pioneer dance photographer, he depicted Isadora Duncan, Anna Pavlova, Ruth St.Denis, and many other legendary dancers of his day.

From the guide to the Arnold Genthe correspondence and writings, 1928-1942, (The New York Public Library. Jerome Robbins Dance Division.)

American photographer.

From the description of Autograph letter signed : [n.p.], to Belle da Costa Greene, [n.d.]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 269574048

Photographer Arnold Genthe (1869-1942) emigrated in 1895 from his native Germany to San Francisco, California. A doctoral student of classical philosophy in Germany, Genthe impulsively decided, on the cusp of an academic career, to take a position as a tutor in San Francisco for a year. He fell in love with the city and ended up settling there, teaching himself photography and quickly gaining recognition for his views of Chinatown street life. After 1906, he switched his artistic focus mainly to portraits circles.

Genthe's portrait photography really came into its own when he moved his studio to Manhattan in 1911. There he ran in society circles, with subjects and friends often one and the same. Some of the great theater and film actresses of the day appeared in his portraits (Greta Garbo, Mary Pickford, Julia Marlowe), as did socialites such as Mary Astor and artists and writers like Childe Hassam, Jack London, and Ezra Pound. Early modern dancers were a favorite subject of his as well, and he captured such pioneers as Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis, and Anna Pavlowa as they pushed social and cultural boundaries.

Never married, Genthe was seen as something of a ladies' man - indeed, he seemed never to lack female subjects for his portraits, some photographed in states of undress that even now might be considered risqué. An early 20th-century cartoon by Haig Patigan shows Genthe with three young "Gibson Girls" and is titled "Herr Doctor Taking Peaches"; another illustration, by Maynard Dixon, shows Genthe behind the camera, seemingly working his magic on a young woman in a filmy gown. Yet Genthe was not known as a cad; he seemed to have a true appreciation of the beauty and intellect of women young and old alike. Once, when asked to name the most beautiful woman he had ever photographed, he surprised his questioner by telling him it was the actress Eleanora Duse - when she was 64.

Genthe's many travels (to Latin America, the Far East, and Europe, which he photographed as well), add to what seems to have been a charmed and exotic life. He published a number of books of photographs, including The Book of the Dance, Pictures of Old Chinatown, and Impressions of Old New Orleans. A friend once said to him, "You certainly are a queer duck - a Don Juan, a Hermit Monk, a Chinese Sage, a University Professor - all rolled into one." To this he replied: "Well, maybe. Of this I am sure: I have never been bored, and I daresay I have had as much out of life as is coming to any man."

From the guide to the Arnold Genthe Photograph Collection, [1895]-1942, (Bulk 1906-1927), (© 2011 New-York Historical Society)


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  • Art--East Asia--Study and teaching
  • Authors--Portraits
  • Celebrities--Portraits
  • Art--Collectors and collecting--China
  • Dancers--Portraits
  • Artists--Portraits
  • Streets--California--San Francisco--Photographs
  • Chinese--California--San Francisco--Photographs
  • Portraits
  • Painters
  • Manuscripts--Collections
  • Actors--Portraits
  • Portrait photography
  • Printers--Photographs
  • Photographers--Correspondence
  • Art--Collectors and collecting--Japan
  • Illustrators
  • Lithographers
  • Prints, Japanese--Collectors and collecting
  • Cats--Photographs


  • Artists
  • Photographers
  • Dance photographers


  • California--San Francisco (as recorded)
  • Guatemala (as recorded)
  • Chinatown (San Francisco, Calif.) (as recorded)
  • Salt Lake City (Utah) (as recorded)
  • Long Island (N.Y.) (as recorded)
  • New Orleans (La.) (as recorded)
  • Europe (as recorded)
  • New York (N.Y.) (as recorded)
  • California--San Francisco Bay Area (as recorded)
  • White Sulphur Springs (W.Va.) (as recorded)
  • Japan (as recorded)