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Marcia Stein

Time Period: 
New York City

Marcia Mishkin Stein, perhaps the brashest of Broadway portraitists during the 1910s and 1920s, was born in Minsk, Russia, circa 1875. She and brother Herman Mishkin (photographer of the Metropolitan Opera 1905-1932) emigrated to New York City in 1885. With her brother, Marcia Mishkin took up photography during the amateur craze for shooting in the mid-1880s.

Through her pursuit of the art she met photographer, magazine illustrator, and anarchist Modest Aronstam in the mid-1890s and married him in June 1899. Aronstam, one of the trio of radicals who plotted the unsuccessful assassination of Henry Clay Frick during the Homestead Steel Strike of 1892, had been the lover of Emma Goldman and co-proprietor with her of a photoshop in Springfield, Massachusetts. He was cousin of Frick's would-be assassin, Alexander Berkman. By 1899 Aronstam had become a successful pen and ink artist illustrator, having broken into the magazine market in the mid-1890s. Marcia Mishkin set up as a commercial portraitist sometime in the mid-1890s.

Though an ardent leftist, Mishkin had little use for Goldman’s free love doctrines, and insisted that her relationship with Aronstam be certified in marriage. Their sole child, Luba, was born on September 10, 1902. Shortly thereafter Modest and Marcia changed their last name to Stein. They ceased being activists, while remaining communist sympathizers through the 1930s.

Stein's career went mainstream shortly after the armistice ending World War I, when the French government hired her as photographic artist to record and publicize a season of theater and art held in New York City in 1919. The major magazines began purchasing her portraits of stage performers, in part because of her quirky anti-glamour modernism. Certain of her stage pictures are among the most visually arresting to be found in Theatre and Vanity Fair in the early 1920s. David S. Shields/ALS


Stein's style evolved from an unornamented rather candid style of portraiture to a moody, uncanny modernist style, defiantly inattentive to glamour poses and alluring lighting. She had a penchant for frontal full face and figure shots, with faces showing expression against blank or semi-abstract backgrounds.