The next exhibition Frances and Mary Allen participated in was the Third Philadelphia Photographic Salon, held from October 21 to November 18, 1900, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.57 Organized by the Photographic Society of Philadelphia, the Salon was the most prestigious photography exhibition in America. The jury consisted of dedicated Pictorial photographers Alfred Stieglitz, Gertrude Käsebier, Clarence White, Frank Eugene, and Eva Watson-Schütze, all of whom would become members of the avant-garde Photo-Secession. Out of the 900 juried photographs, two of Frances and Mary Allen’s photographs, The Willows and A Holbein Woman, were among the 204 selected. The Third Philadelphia Photographic Salon linked the Allens to important art photographers. For at least a brief time, jurist Eva Watson-Schütze corresponded with the Allens.58
The Allen sisters’ prints in the Philadelphia Salon received critical acclaim in photography journals. The American Amateur Photographer reported “A Holbein Woman is a most excellent bit of portraiture, in the style of the old Dutch school, and is a good example of how a particular style can be worked out without devoting everything to reproducing the texture of the canvas of the original.”59 In a Photo Era review, Osborne Yellott praised the Allens and F. Holland Day. “Among those whose work was passed upon by the jury and accepted, the New England amateurs are entitled to rank among the first for general excellence. Mr. Day’s work is, as usual, marked by originality and deep poetic feeling. The Willows and A Holbein Woman, by Frances and Mary Allen, both show careful and studious work and are an honor to the exhibition.”60 Later, Yellott discussed the schism between the different approaches, mentioning The Willows and some of Stieglitz’s work. These, he thought, belonged to a “school which is not the old school, but which is again not the new school,—a school between the two, wherein I confidently believe lies the future of photography as a graphic art.”61
The Philadelphia Salons became embroiled in controversy as tensions grew between the photographers of the old school, who appreciated sharply focused photographs, and the members of the new school, who advocated soft focus, art photographs. Yellott went on to criticize the work of soft focus photographers such as F. Holland Day, “one of the leading prophets of the new school,” as “simply preposterous, … carried to the very verge of ridiculous eccentricity.”62 While Frances and Mary’s photographs embraced Pictorialism, their iconography and presentation did not challenge the viewer in ways that alienated traditionalists. Consequently, the Allens were invited to exhibit close to 100 of their photographs in the clubrooms of The Photographic Society of Philadelphia in October 1901.63
The following month, when the Fourth Philadelphia Salon opened, it was without the support of the new school of photographers, many of whom boycotted the exhibition because the jury consisted of members of the old school. Mary Allen indicated to Frances Benjamin Johnston that she and Frances would be submitting photographs to the Fourth Salon jury: “I see you are on the jury for the Salon—We hope to send something—are glad of your presence—The newer members of the jury seem to belong to a different set—I hope you will be able to keep them in line. The pendulum had swung so far it had to swing back—and it is hard to stop it on just the right place.”64 Johnston’s position on the jury apparently did not benefit Frances and Mary. No Allen sisters’ photographs were included in what became the last Philadelphia Salon.
Photographs courtesy of Memorial Hall Museum, Deerfield, MA.