Posts Tagged ‘British photography

22
Aug
21

Exhibition: ‘Bill Brandt’ at the Fundación Mapfre, Madrid

Exhibition dates: 3rd June – 29th August 2021

Curator: Ramón Esparza (University of the Basque Country)

 

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'St. Paul's Cathedral in the moonlight' 1942

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
St. Paul’s Cathedral in the moonlight
1942
25.72 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Bill Brandt: master of photography, master of reinvention

“I’m 70% sure this was a reality not a dream”

In 12 years of writing this archive, this is the first chance I have had to assemble a posting and really think about the work of Bill Brandt, one of the most significant and inventive photographer of the 20th century. Brandt exhibitions are few and far between.

Son of a British father and German mother, Bill Brandt was born in Hamburg in 1904. As an adolescent he contracted tuberculosis and spent much of his youth in a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland. In 1927 he travelled to Vienna, “to see a lung specialist and then decided to stay and find work in a photography studio. There, in 1928, he met and made a successful portrait of the poet Ezra Pound, who subsequently introduced Brandt to the American-born, Paris-based photographer Man Ray. Brandt arrived in Paris to begin three months of study as an apprentice at the Man Ray Studio in 1929 … his work from this time shows the influence of André Kertész and Eugène Atget, as well as Man Ray and the Surrealists.”1

“For any young photographer at that time, Paris was the centre of the world. Those were the exciting early days when the French poets and surrealists recognised the possibilities of photography.” ~ Bill Brandt

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Having visited London in 1928, upon his return to London, in 1931, Brandt was well versed in the language of photographic modernism. In 1933 Brandt settled permanently in North London with his wife. With the rise of Nazism in Germany, Brandt Anglicised his name and disowned his German background and would claim he was born in South London. “He adopted Britain as his home and it became the subject of his greatest photographs.” Here is his first reinvention: the obfuscation of his German heritage, but he could not hide that heritage in his photographs.

As a photojournalist working for magazines such as News Chronicle, Weekly Illustrated, Lilliput, Harper’s Bazaar and Picture Post, Brandt documented all levels of British society. In his first book, The English at Home (1936), “comprising sixty-three photographs, Brandt traversed the country to make a pictorial survey of sorts, moving across the social classes, and between rural life and the urban city.”2 In the book Brandt pairs upper and lower class photographs across double page spreads, mixing joy (girl dancing in the street) with sobriety (the parlourmaids). As David Campany observes in his excellent writing on the artist, “There is nothing overtly angry or revolutionary in the generally restrained tone of Brandt’s book. However it was unusual in bringing different classes into one volume, leaving the viewer to reconcile the social contradictions and inequities.”3

“The extreme social contrast, during those years before the war, was, visually, very inspiring for me. I started by photographing in London, the West End, the suburbs, the slums.” ~ Bill Brandt

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The book was not a success. Much like Robert Frank’s The Americans (published in France in 1958), another book by an émigré photographing as an outsider a foreign country, the British did not understand the book and probably did not like the mirror that was being held up to their society – much as the Americans hated Frank’s book for the pointed insights its probing images revealed of their fractured society, which had never been shown to them before. Campany notes, “In the 1930s Brandt was drawn to the rituals and customs of daily life, with what he saw as the deeply unconscious ways people inhabit their social roles and class positions. For him, to photograph these minutiae was not simply to document but to estrange through a heightened sense of atmosphere, theatrical artifice and a dreamlike sensibility. As an outsider he seemed to see English behaviour as bordering on passive automatism.”4

In the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the photographs would have made the English feel very uncomfortable. Through their social commentary and poetic resonance, through their direct, modernist gaze and Surrealist dances (the women washing the blackened coal miner, a man sheltering in a coffin), Brandt squeezes (conflates?) documentary and art together, seeing the familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Through reinvention he recasts the very nature of his characters, finding out what else is essential in the photographs, challenging the viewer to understand the complexities of the image as it moves across time and from documentary to art. Often this left the viewer perplexed and grasping at the mystery, the unknown.

Other bodies of work and books followed. In 1937, Brandt visited the North of England for the first time, photographing the desperate plight of the poor scavenging for coal on the slag-heaps. In 1938 Brandt published A Night in London which was based on Paris de Nuit (1936) by Brassaï, photographing pubs, common lodging houses at night, theatres, Turkish baths, prisons and people in their bedrooms. By 1939, he was back in London, photographing the blackout and people sheltering from the Blitz in the London Underground.

“In 1939, at the beginning of the war, I was back in London photographing the blackout. The darkened town, lit only by moonlight, looked more beautiful than before or since.”~ Bill Brandt

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And so it went, on through Literary Britain (1951) which combined brooding, atmospheric landscapes and photographs of William Wordsworth’s room at Dove Cottage, Shaw’s Corner, Glamis Castle from Macbeth, and the scene of Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment at Reading Gaol opposite British poetry and prose; from the 1940s onwards, portraits of the notable and creative, made during the 1960s using a wide-angle lens; and perspectives on nudes made from 1944 onwards using a 1931 Kodak mahogany and brass camera with a wide-angle lens used by the police for crime scene records, which allowed him to see, he said, ‘like a mouse, a fish or a fly’.

“The nudes reveal Brandt’s intimate knowledge of the École de Paris – particularly Man Ray, Picasso, Matisse and Arp – together with his admiration for Henry Moore. He published Perspective of Nudes in 1961. It featured nudes in domestic interiors and studios, and on the beaches of East Sussex and northern and southern France. He used a Superwide Hasselblad for the beach photographs. In 1977-8 Brandt added further nudes, published in Nudes, 1945-80.”5

Through all of this there is the reinvention… reinvention of the portrait where the sitter is now part of the whole scenario (the surroundings), reinvention of the landscape where the landscape emerges from chthonic darkness, and reinvention of the nude where Brandt transplants Brassai’s Distortions into domestic interiors and exterior beaches – where the Surrealist, distorted, enigmatic fragment, like an ear or a big toe, comes to stand for the whole embedded in an alien landscape. Finally, there was the big reinvention in the 1960s, where Brandt began to reprint his earlier photojournalist images with a much harsher contrast (see various comparison images in this posting) in order to enhance their (Surrealist) art credentials and keep them relevant in an Abstract Expressionist, Pop Art world.

As David Campany states, “In the 1960s there were two major changes in his work and its reception. Both were related to his emerging position in art photography. He began to print his negatives much more harshly, sacrificing the mid-tones for more modish graphic blocks of black and white. The rich descriptive information in his negatives would be subsumed, even obliterated in his new aesthetic… While his latest photography was pursued more openly as art, notably his nudes (published as a book in 1960), his expressionism was released anew upon his earlier work. His books from the 1960s are printed with graphic extremes of black and white.”6

These are the images that are now famous, these graphic reinventions of the work and the Self. The reinvention of the old into the new. Through rethinking, recalculating and reimagining his old photographs and how they looked (“the way in which the artist interpreted a single negative had changed over time”), Brandt opened up his way of seeing and opened up new matter… ‘in rerum natura‘: in the nature of things; in the realm of actuality; in existence. Perhaps never before in the history of photography had the negative just been a step in the production of an ever changing image.

It was in the totality of this new work that his eloquent eye emerged. To me Brandt is like a Zen master. Whether it be socio-documentary, portrait, landscape or nude, it was his ability to focus on a particular subject at any one time – to concentrate on seeing subjects and ideas clearly – that became a hallmark of his later artistic creation. Through bodies of work that mix reality and dream the artist challenges straight photographic seeing in order for us to understand that enigmatic fragments can stand alone from each other while at the same time combining to make the whole. While A snicket in Halifax (1937, below) may not be present in Unemployed miner returning home from Jarrow (1937, below), it is when they combine that the circle is closed. It is in the entirety of his imaged (imagined) world, in the entirety of his vision, when all fragments combine, that Brandt emphasises that the whole of anything is greater than its parts.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. “Bill Brandt.” Introduction by Mitra Abbaspour, Associate Curator, Department of Photography, 2014 on the MoMA website Nd [Online] Cited 22/08/2021
  2. David Campany. “The Career of a Photographer, the Career of a Photograph – Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document,” on the David Company website [Online] Cited 10/06/2021. First published in the Tate Liverpool exhibition catalogue ‘Making History: Art and documentary in Britain from 1929-Now’, 2006
  3. Ibid.,
  4. Ibid.,
  5. Anonymous. “Bill Brandt Biography,” archived from the original on the V&A website Nd [Online] Cited 22/08/2021
  6. Campany, op cit.,

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Many thankx to Fundación Mapfre for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Fundación MAPFRE is presenting the first retrospective in Spain on Bill Brandt (1904-1983), considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century. The exhibition brings together 186 photographs developed by Brandt himself who, over the course of five decades, made use of almost all the photographic genres: social documentary, portraiture, the nude and landscape.

 

 

“Each of Brandt’s well-known images aims for a tight formal organisation, its content given dramatic charge and dense psychological resonance. As documents they aim unapologetically to exceed visual description. In this sense what served him ill as a photojournalist was just what predisposed his images toward posterity via art. …

In the 1950s he continued to work professionally but concentrated on the more established genres of portraiture and landscape. In the 1960s there were two major changes in his work and its reception. Both were related to his emerging position in art photography. He began to print his negatives much more harshly, sacrificing the mid-tones for more modish graphic blocks of black and white. The rich descriptive information in his negatives would be subsumed, even obliterated in his new aesthetic. It was a technique that looked backward through German expressionist cinema to art photography’s Pictorialist preference for deep shadows and chiaroscuro, but it also connected with the emerging Pop sensibility.

While his latest photography was pursued more openly as art, notably his nudes (published as a book in 1960), his expressionism was released anew upon his earlier work. His books from the 1960s are printed with graphic extremes of black and white. …

The reprinting of Parlourmaid and under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner was never too harsh. Brandt knew well that the force of this photograph resided in its details as much as its bold graphic organisation. Shadow of Light even improved on its past reproductions allowing new layers of meaning to emerge. …

While some meanings of Brandt’s photograph have been buried as the image has moved across time and from documentary to art, new meanings have come to the surface, meanings entirely dependent on art’s demand for superior qualities of reproduction.

As with many photographers who were discovered by a wider audience later in life, Brandt found himself regarded as a ‘figure from the past’ and as a contemporary artist at the same time. Layered on top of this was what looked like a shift from documentarist to artist. The reality, as always, was more complicated. At his best Brandt was a ‘documentary artist’ with all the paradoxes and interpretative difficulties that entails. There could never be any simple distinction between his artistry and his documentary description. The two are inextricable and give us no clear answers. And in the end these tensions are at the heart of his work and its success.”

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David Campany. Extract from “The Career of a Photographer, the Career of a Photograph – Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document,” on the David Company website [Online] Cited 10/06/2021. First published in the Tate Liverpool exhibition catalogue ‘Making History: Art and documentary in Britain from 1929-Now’, 2006

 

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Death and the industrialist, Barcelona' 1932

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Death and the industrialist, Barcelona
1932
25.40 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

An apprentice in the studio of Man Ray and influenced in his origins by artists such as Brassaï, André Kertész or Eugène Atget, Bill Brandt (Hamburg, 1904 – London, 1983), one of the founders of modern photography, conceives the photographic language as a powerful means of contemplation and understanding of reality, but always from a primacy of aesthetic considerations over documentaries. Published in the press or in books, some of his photographs quickly became iconic pieces, indispensable to understanding mid-century English society.

His work also expresses a permanent attraction for the strange , for that which causes as much attraction as it is strange and causes unease. His aesthetics are thus close to the concept of “the sinister”, understood as something opposite to the idea of ​​the familiar, of the usual. This element will act as a plot line for a professional and artistic production that, at first, seems erratic and dispersed.

His late work shows a more experimental facet, a search for innovation through cropping and framing, present above all in nude images.

The exhibition brings together 186 photographs made by Bill Brandt himself, who throughout the almost five decades of his career did not stop addressing any of the great genres of the photographic discipline: social reporting, portraiture, nude and landscape .

The tour, divided into six sections (“First photographs”, “Up and down”, “Portraits”, “Described landscapes”, “Nudes” and “In Praise of imperfection”), tries to show how all these aspects – in the that identity and the concept of “the sinister” become protagonists – they come together in the work of this eclectic artist who was considered, above all, a flâneur, a “stroller” in terms similar to those of his admired Eugene Atget, whom he always considered one of his teachers. One hundred and eighty-six photographs that are complemented by writings, some of his cameras and various documentation (among which the interview he gave to the BBC shortly before his death stands out), as well as illustrated publications of the time. All thanks to the courtesy of the Bill Brandt Archive in London and the Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York.

 

Four keys

Surrealist beginnings

After starting his foray into photography in Vienna, where he made the famous portrait of the poet Ezra Pound in 1928, Bill Brandt went to Paris to enter as an assistant, for a short period of time, in the studio of Man Ray, which prompted him to blend in with the surrealist atmosphere of the French capital, which will permeate all of his work from then on. This influence, together with that of his admiration for Eugène Atget, the photographer who documented “old Paris” and for whom Fundación MAPFRE also organised an exhibition in 2011, led to images where the disturbing was already making an appearance: street scenes and Parisian nights are some of the most frequent motifs in the artist’s images during this period.

 

Concealment of German heritage

Together with his partner and future wife, Eva Boros, he also made numerous trips to the Hungarian steppe, to his native Hamburg and to Spain, where they visited Madrid and Barcelona, ​​before moving to London in 1934. It was in this city when Brandt got rid of his German roots, eliminating all reference to them, a concealment due to the growing animosity towards Germany that followed the rise of Nazism. Brandt invented a British birth, creating an artistic corpus in which the United Kingdom that is at the core of his identity.

 

The portrait

After having made several portraits in the early days of his career, starting in the 1940s – a period in which he worked for magazines such as Picture Post, Liliput and Harper’s Bazaar – Bill Brandt approached this genre in a professional way. Some of the portraits represented a break with tradition, such as those that appeared in the aforementioned Lilliput in 1941, illustrating the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which included some of the most representative faces of the writers and poets of the Auden Generation.

 

In Praise of Imperfection

In his introduction to Camera in London, the book on the British capital published in 1948, Bill Brandt noted: ‘I consider it essential that the photographer make his own copies and enlargements. The final effect of the image depends to a large extent on these operations, and only the photographer knows what he intends. For the artist, work in the laboratory was essential and, at the beginning of his career, he learned a whole range of artisan techniques: from magnification to enlargement, the use of brushes, scrapers or other tools.’ This manual retouching sometimes gave his photographs that somewhat crude aspect that can be associated with the aforementioned Freudian concept of the “unheimlich”: the sinister.

Text from the Fundación Mapfre website translated from the Spanish by Google Translate

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Bond Street hatter's show-case' 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Bond Street hatter’s show-case
1934
30.48 x 23.50 cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Born Hermann Wilhelm Brandt in Hamburg in 1904 to a wealthy family of Russian origin, after a period living in Vienna and Paris Brandt decided to settle in London in 1934. Within the context of growing hostility to all things German due to the rise of Nazism, he attempted to erase all traces of his origins to the point of stating that he was British by nationality. This concealment and the creation of a new personality enveloped Brandt’s life in an aura of mystery and conflict that is directly reflected in his works.

This aspect combines with the photographer’s interest in psychoanalysis, which he underwent during his youth in Vienna. A few years earlier, in 1919, Sigmund Freud had published the essay Das Unheimliche in which he analysed this term, which is generally translated as “the uncanny” in the sense of something that produces unease. Almost all Brandt’s photographs, both the pre-war social documentary type and those from his subsequent more “artistic” phase, possess a powerful poetic charge as well as that very typical aura of strangeness and mystery in which, as in his own life, reality and fiction are always mixed.

The structure of the exhibition, which is divided into six sections, reveals how all these qualities – in which identity and the concept of “the uncanny” become the principal ones – blend together in the work of this eclectic artist. Above all Brandt was considered a flâneur or stroller in a way comparable to his admired Eugène Atget, whom he always considered one of his masters. The exhibition also reveals the relationship between Brandt’s images and Dada and Surrealism. This interest is reflected in clear references to psychoanalytical issues, expressed through increasingly sombre tones and an obsession with collecting found objects.

The exhibition is completed with a range of documentation, a number of Brandt’s cameras and examples of the illustrated press of the period that published some of his most iconic images. All this has been made possible courtesy of the Bill Brandt Archive in London and the Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York.

Press release from the Fundación Mapfre website

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'East Durham coal-searchers' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
East Durham coal-searchers
1937
25.24 x 20.16cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

East Durham coal-searchers near Henworth, 1937. Coal searchers on slag heap searching for bits of coal 1940s.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Coal-Miner's Bath, Chester-le-Street, Durham' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Coal-Miner’s Bath, Chester-le-Street, Durham
1937
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Bill Brandt

Considered one of the most influential British photographers of the 20th century and one of the artists who, together with Brassaï, Henri Cartier-Bresson and others, laid the foundations of modern photography, Bill Brandt’s oeuvre can be considered an eclectic one, reflecting a career of nearly five decades during which he encompassed almost all the photographic genres: social documentary, portraiture, the nude and landscape.

Born Hermann Wilhelm Brandt in Hamburg in 1904 to a wealthy family of Russian origin, after a period living in Vienna and Paris Brandt decided to settle in London in 1934. Within the context of growing hostility to all things German due to the rise of Nazism, he attempted to erase all traces of his origins to the point of stating that he was British by nationality. This concealment and the creation of a new personality enveloped Brandt’s life in an aura of mystery and conflict that was directly reflected in his work. His images aim to construct a vision of the country that he embraced as his own, although not of the real country but rather of the idea that he had created of it during his childhood through reading and from stories told by relatives.

Brandt had tuberculosis as a child and it was seemingly in the Swiss sanatoriums at Agra and Davos where his family sent him to convalesce that he first became interested in photography. After some years in Switzerland he moved to Vienna to undergo an innovative treatment for tuberculosis based on psychoanalysis. Imbued with a post-Romantic air, Brandt’s photography always seems to be located on the edge, provoking simultaneous attraction and rejection. It can be related to the concept of unheimlich, a term first used by Sigmund Freud in 1919. The adjective unheimlich – generally translated as “the uncanny”, “the sinister” or “the disturbing”, and which according to Eugenio Trías “constitutes the condition and limit of the beautiful” – is one of the characteristic traits that remains present throughout Brandt’s career. Psychoanalytical theories were among the fundamental pillars of Surrealism and their influence extended to the entire Parisian cultural scene in the 1930s. Brandt and his first partner, Eva Boros, moved to the French capital in 1930 where he worked as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio. It was at this point that he assimilated the ideas circulating in a city filled with young artists, many of them immigrants looking to make their way in the professional art world. His images of this initial period suggest a catalogue of psychoanalytical “themes”, clearly reflecting the influence of Surrealism on him even though he never actively participated in any of the historic avant-garde groups.

Almost all Brandt’s images, both the pre-war social documentary type and those from his subsequent more “artistic” phase, possess a powerful poetic charge as well as that very typical aura of strangeness and mystery in which, as in his own life, reality and fiction are always combined.

Bill Brandt died in London in 1983.

Ramón Esparza, curator

 

Early photographs

Following his apprenticeship as a photographer in Vienna, Brandt left for Paris in order to work for a brief period as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio, an activity that allowed him to move in the city’s Surrealist circles. Nonetheless, his photographs of this period are closer to those of his admired Eugène Atget. Brandt followed Atget, becoming a stroller or flâneur whose images of Parisian nightlife and street scenes anticipate his subsequent work and possess an already palpable sense of unease.

Brandt and his partner Eva Boros travelled on numerous occasions to the Hungarian steppes, to his native Hamburg and to Spain, where they visited Madrid and Barcelona among other cities and with the plan of spending their holidays in Majorca before moving to London in 1934. It was in London that Brandt shed his German origins and created a body of work in which the United Kingdom – a country marked by significant social inequality at that time – established itself as the core of his identity.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Dressmaker's dummy, Paris' 1929

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Dressmaker’s dummy, Paris
1929
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

During his years in Paris Brandt established connections with the Surrealist circle and with groups of photographers who aimed to make the camera both a means of expression and of earning a living. He never followed the principal trends and focused his attention on the daily life of the suburbs rather than on events of the day. Brandt’s photographs of this period reveal how he increasingly assimilated Surrealist concepts into his way of seeing. This dressmaker’s dummy found on the street is a metaphor for the idea of the double. Other images from these years, such as the hot air balloon flying over the skies of Paris, allow his early work to be seen as a type of catalogue of the principal themes of Surrealism.

 

Upstairs downstairs

The growing antipathy on the part of the British towards Nazi Germany meant that many immigrants who had arrived from the latter country changed their name. Brandt went even further than this as he completely concealed his origins and for more than twenty-five years passed himself off as a British citizen.

The 1930s was the decade of the great social protest movements and of strikes over working conditions following the 1929 financial crash. It was within this context that in 1936 Brandt published his first book, The English at Home, produced in a wide, album format. He employed a design particularly favoured by Central European graphic publications based on the combination of opposites in order to achieve a significant contrast between each pair of photographs. With these double-page spreads Brandt aimed to juxtapose two opposing social social classes, thus generating two parallel narrative discourses without mixing them together.

Following the outbreak of World War II Brandt started to work for the Ministry of Information. It was at this point that he produced two of his most famous series of images: his photographs of Londoners sleeping in Underground stations converted into improvised shelters; and his images of the city at ground level, showing a ghostly London lit only by the moon as protection against the air raids. Brandt abandoned the class differences that he had previously portrayed in favour of other types of scenes which denounced the effects of the war on the civilian population.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Couple in Peckham' 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Couple in Peckham
1936
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Following in the wake of Brassaï and the success of his book Paris de nuit (1932), Brandt began to elaborate his own version of London at night. To do this he made regular use of friends and relatives who posed for him to create the scene he wished to photograph. In this case the “accosted” woman is his sister-in-law Ester Brandt and the man in the hat is his brother Rolf. The image allows for different interpretations but the reference to the genre of crime thrillers or simply to prostitution is clear.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Unemployed miner returning home from Jarrow' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Unemployed miner returning home from Jarrow
1937
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The 1930s were economically harsh and politically turbulent years in Europe. The 1929 financial crash led the United Kingdom to close its mines and steelworks, resulting in unemployment rising to more than 2.5 million people. Activities such as collecting pieces of coal from mining waste on the beach became a way of life for many families. Brandt’s photograph shows one of these former miners, exhausted after an unproductive day’s labour and pushing his bicycle loaded with a sack of coal, the result of his efforts.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner' 1936

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner
1933 printed later
23.81 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

This photograph was taken for a reportage published in Picture Post on 29 July 1939 with the title “The Perfect Parlourmaid” [but it never appeared in the Picture Post photo story of that name in July 1939]. Following his habitual practice, Brandt turned to his own family, in this case making use of his uncle Henry’s house. Pratt the parlourmaid waits in the dining room for the family members and their guests to be seated for dinner before starting to serve the food and attend the diners. This could be a classic image of social documentary photography except for the fact that Brandt very probably sat down at the table with the rest of the family after taking his shot. The image, however, reveals far more. The faces and poses of the two maids convey the difference between the gaze of the senior parlourmaid, which suggests both experience and assimilation of her social role, and that of her assistant, which seems to wander vaguely around the room.

 

“In his marvellous photograph the two house parlourmaids, prepared to wait at table, have eyes loaded like blunderbusses. Their starched caps and cuffs, their poker backs, mirror the terrible rectitude of learned attitudes. They have the same irritated loathing in defence of caste that shows in portraits of Evelyn Waugh.”

Mark Haworth-Booth cites Henderson in his introduction to the second edition of Brandt’s book Shadow of Light, Gordon Fraser, London 1977, p. 17.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner' 1933

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Parlourmaid and Under-parlourmaid ready to serve dinner
1933
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

“… Brandt’s parlourmaids image is unusual in that something of those social contrasts is at play within its frame and so the image doesn’t lend itself to juxtaposition in the same way.

We see a dressed dinner table of a well-to-do household and the attendant women. The head parlourmaid seems at first glance to express a stern resentment mixed with weariness and professional discipline, but there is a kind of blankness about her too. Her junior has the vacant expression of an adolescent, not yet able to grasp the social forces that will shape her, perhaps. A reading of the image made by the photographer Nigel Henderson is similar but more pointed:

“In his marvellous photograph the two house parlourmaids, prepared to wait at table, have eyes loaded like blunderbusses. Their starched caps and cuffs, their poker backs, mirror the terrible rectitude of learned attitudes. They have the same irritated loathing in defence of caste that shows in portraits of Evelyn Waugh.”

Rhetorically, this is an image of doubles and differences. Its economy of form and content forces us to see in opposites, tapping into and reinforcing a general understanding of the social structures of class and service. It is as barbed as The English at Home gets. There is nothing overtly angry or revolutionary in the generally restrained tone of Brandt’s book. However it was unusual in bringing different classes into one volume, leaving the viewer to reconcile the social contradictions and inequities.”

David Campany. Extract from “The Career of a Photographer, the Career of a Photograph – Bill Brandt’s Art of the Document,” on the David Company website [Online] Cited 10/06/2021. First published in the Tate Liverpool exhibition catalogue Making History: Art and documentary in Britain from 1929-Now, 2006

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Sheltering in a Spitalfields crypt' 1940

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Sheltering in a Spitalfields crypt
1940
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Isidore Ducasse, who used the grandiloquent nom de plume of “the Comte de Lautréamont” for his poetic output, wrote one of the most frequently quoted definitions of Surrealist beauty: “As beautiful as the chance meeting, on a dissecting table, of a sewing machine and an umbrella.” Locating incongruence and transforming it into a work of art was one of Surrealism’s key strategies. By adding a dash of well-developed humour to this formula Brandt brought off the recipe with aplomb. At the height of the war, with German bombing raids nightly assailing a London whose inhabitants took shelter in the Underground and in basements, Bill Brandt photographed this man. Poor and working-class, to judge from his appearance, he is seen peacefully asleep in an open tomb in a crypt in clear defiance of death itself and of the terror it supposedly arouses.

 

Portraits

As a portraitist, a genre to which he devoted himself professionally from 1943, Bill Brandt considered that the photographer’s aim should be that of capturing a “suspended” moment rather than just the appearance: “I think a good portrait ought to tell something about a subject’s past and suggest something about their future”; in other words, achieving an image that asks questions and raises issues about both the sitter and the viewer. Some of Brandt’s portraits mark a break from tradition, such as the ones published in the magazine Lilliput in 1941 to accompany the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which includes images of some of the leading names of the Auden generation.

Brandt subsequently began to distort the space in his portraits, for example Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London (1963). He also produced a new series of portraits of eyes of clearly Surrealist inspiration. The eyes of Henry Moore, Georges Braque and Antoni Tàpies are among the examples of gazes that transformed the way of seeing and representing the world.

 

“I always take portraits in my sitter’s own surroundings. I concentrate very much on the picture as a whole and leave the sitter rather to himself. I hardly talk and barely look at him.” ~ Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London' 1963

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London
1963
25.40 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Brandt’s portraits evolved over time. Some mark a break with tradition, such as the images published in Lilliput in 1941 to accompany the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which included some of the most famous faces of the writers and poets of the Auden generation. He subsequently began to distort the space in his images, as evident in Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London (1963), and also produced a new series of portraits of eyes of clearly Surrealist inspiration. The eyes of Henry Moore, Georges Braque and Antoni Tàpies are among the examples of gazes that transformed the way of seeing and representing the world.

One of several portraits of Francis Bacon by Brandt, here the photographer used the camera he had bought for his nudes on the beach. The notably wide angle lens, which produces a sense of space distorted in depth, and the chosen moment, just after sunset with the last light of day blending with the artificial light, give the scene a strange “atmosphere” (a term Brandt considered fundamental in his images). The familiar setting of an English park becomes disturbing with the dark sky, the curiously small and bent street light and Bacon, either indifferent or engaged, who turns his back on it all.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Henry Moore in his studio at Much Hadham, Hertfordshire' 1946

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Henry Moore in his studio at Much Hadham, Hertfordshire
1946
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The friendship and professional relations between Bill Brandt and the sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth was a lifelong one and they frequently collaborated. Moore accompanied Brandt on his visits to the night shelters in the London Underground and drew while his friend took photographs. Their work is being exhibited at The Hepworth Wakefield in 2020. The mutual influence between the two artists is evident in this portrait of Moore alongside one of his sculptures. The biomorphic forms that Moore has created from the wood recall those of Brandt’s nudes.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Graham Greene in his flat, St James's Street, London' 1948

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Graham Greene in his flat, St James’s Street, London
1948
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The writer Graham Greene appears in this photograph next to a window which gives onto the interior courtyard of his London flat. Brandt, however, transformed a view of a simple courtyard into a type of labyrinth of lines in which it is difficult to discern what belongs to the window, what to the triangular shape located immediately next to Greene and what to the construction in the background. This confusion, the repetition of triangles and the mixture of lines can be seen as mimicking the author’s complex plots in his novels, while the harsh light that illuminates his face, falling from the upper right downwards, imbues his figure with a theatrical aura of mystery.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Georges Braque' 1960

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Georges Braque
1960
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The eye of…

In the early 1960s Brandt embarked on a photographic series in which he reduced the sitter’s face to a foreground shot of one of the eyes. The subjects photographed in this manner were some of the leading visual artists of the day: Ernst, Braque, Vasarely, Moore, Tàpies, Arp, Dubuffet and Giacometti. The series aims to make the viewer reflect on the role of the gaze in art. Once the imperative of resemblance is rejected, what makes a painting powerful and interesting is the artist’s gaze, the way he or she has to look at and represent reality, or simply to produce a visible reality that does not refer to any other, as in the case of Victor Vasarely and Jean Arp. The camera, that glass eye which reflected the world in the 20th century, is used here to depict the instrument through which artists have seen and interpreted that world. To be exact, however, it should be acknowledged that both the camera and the eye are mere tools and that the essence of the process takes place “further back”, in the mind.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Jean Dubuffet' 1960

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Jean Dubuffet
1960
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

This closely cropped eye belongs to the artist Jean Dubuffet. Brandt made ten photographs of notable visual artists; a few seem to have been taken at the same session as a published portrait, although none appear to be enlargements from other known works. They are striking departures from Brandt’s typical practice, mysterious despite their clarity of description, and they underscore the photographer’s experimental impulse, even late in his career. There is no record of their ever being published in a magazine.

MoMA gallery label from Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light, March 6 – August 12, 2013.

 

Landscapes described

Following his engagement with portraiture Brandt introduced landscape into his repertoire, thus encompassing all the categories traditionally considered to constitute the classic artistic genres. In his landscapes he aimed to introduce an atmosphere that connects with the viewer in order to provoke an emotional response from contemplation of the work. In this sense it would seem that Brandt did not merely aim to represent a place but to capture its very essence in a single image, as in Halifax; “Hail Hell & Halifax” (1937) and Cuckmere River (1963). When these landscapes started to include stone constructions such as tombs and crosses Brandt considered that he had achieved his aim: “Thus it was I found atmosphere to be the spell that charged the commonplace with beauty. … I only know it is a combination of elements … which reveals the subject as familiar and yet strange.”

It should be remembered that for Brandt the concept of landscape was deeply rooted in painting and the photographic tradition but also in literature. Literary Britain, which was published in 1951, makes this relationship clear. Brandt used images already published in other weekly magazines as well as photographs specially taken for this book, accompanying them with extracts from works by British authors.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) Halifax; 'Hail, Hell and Halifax' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Halifax; ‘Hail, Hell and Halifax’
1937
23.50 x 20.32cm
Bill Brandt Archive
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In the social portrait that Brandt created of England in the 1930s the northern industrial cities made an inevitable appearance. Coal mining and steel production, both affected by a major crisis during this period, gave cities like Halifax and Newcastle a dark, sombre appearance which Brandt masterfully conveyed in his images. The photograph’s title refers to a verse from a popular 17th century poem by John Taylor: “From Hell, Hull and Halifax, Good Lord, deliver us!”, referring to the harshness of justice in those two cities.

 

The reputation of the great British documentary photographer Bill Brandt rests in large part on his capacity to manage the tension between black and white in a photograph. For Brandt, strong tonal contrast came to represent the social and cultural experience of Britain between the wars – a place of vast contrasts between rich and poor, worker and elite, urban and rural. But strong tonal contrast, and blackness in particular, carried other, more metaphysical associations. For Brandt, blackness represented the forces and mysteries at work in the world, a place of power and tragedy. Blackness in a photograph also introduced ‘a new beauty’ to the subject, one that intensified the visual and emotional experience of it.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Gull's nest, midsummer evening, Skye' 1947

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Gull’s nest, midsummer evening, Skye
1947
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Brandt saw this gull’s nest on a sunny afternoon during his trip to photograph northern Scotland. The light was too flat so he decided to return later. This was close to the time of year of the midnight sun. As Brandt wrote: “When I approached the nest on an isolated outpost of rocks, an enormously large gull which had been sitting on the eggs flew off and circled low around my head, barking like a dog. It was windstill, the mountains of the Scottish mainland were reflected in the sea – the light was now just right for the picture.”

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, London' 1952

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, London
1952
22.86 x 19.37cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Nudes

In 1944 Brandt returned to the theme of the nude. For the artist, documentary photography had become a widely extended fashion while the old Great Britain with its marked class divisions was now something of the past. It should also be remembered that the nude is one of the traditional themes of painting and as such signals Brandt’s evolution from documentary photography to the social status of “artist”.

In the 1950s he visited the French Channel Coast beaches in order to make a series of portraits of the painter Georges Braque. Seeing those pebble beaches led to a change of direction and he started to photograph stones and parts of the female body as if they were stones themselves. He combined flesh and rock, heat and cold, hardness and softness in a single formal discourse.

The distortions are often so pronounced that the parts of the body have lost any reference point but they nonetheless produce sensations that are more poetic or profound. It may be that for Brandt these “fragments” of the human body in comparison or communion with natural forms represented primordial forms of some type through which we can perceive “the totality of the world”, as with the Urformen of the Gestalt School and its theory of perception.

Brandt’s nudes of the late 1970s bear no relation to his earlier ones. They transmit a certain sense of violence which reveals the alienation of an artist who no longer felt himself part of the world in which he lived.

 

“Instead of photographing what I saw, I photographed what the camera was seeing. I interfered very little, and the lens produced anatomical images and shapes which my eyes had never observed.” ~ Bill Brandt

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, Campden Hill, London' 1947

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Campden Hill, London
1947
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

The Kodak camera that Brandt found in a second-hand shop near Covent Garden was designed to produce a clear image of an interior space without any major technical complications. It offered an unusual vision of the motif, creating a space that evokes a dreamlike mood. Most of Brandt’s photographs of nudes in interiors were taken with this old wooden camera which imbues the scene with a sensation of both beauty and disquiet. The repetition of specific visual elements such as windows, which are always in the background of the scene, half-open doors and different pieces of furniture, including the two chairs in this image, suggests issues such as absence, the desire to escape or a complex representation of desire stripped of the object (equivalent to reducing it to its most primary sense).

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, East Sussex coast' 1959

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, East Sussex coast
1959
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, East Sussex coast' 1977

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, East Sussex coast
1977
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

While walking on the Channel Coast beaches, Brandt’s attention was caught by the rounded forms of the rocks on the beach and their resemblance to some forms of the human body. This idea gave rise to his series of nudes photographed outdoors. For this project he abandoned his old Kodak plate camera in favour of a Hasselblad with a wide angle lens and his much used Rolleiflex. The formal interplay that he began to develop in this photograph is closely related to the constructivist nature of what the theoreticians of the Gestalt school (the German psychology movement which began to analyse the bases of human perception in the early 20th century) called Urformen or primordial forms. The combination of both elements, rock and flesh, hard and soft, produces a series of relationships that can be associated with Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture.

 

In Praise of Imperfection

In the introduction to Camera in London, his book on that city published in 1948, Brandt wrote: “I consider it essential that the photographer should do his own printing and enlarging. The final effect of the finished print depends so much on these operations. And only the photographer himself knows the effect he wants.”

For the artist, hands-on work in the photographic lab was essential for ensuring control over the final image, which in most cases was the stage prior to the publishing process when the image appeared in a book or magazine. At the outset of his career Brandt had learned a wide range of traditional techniques, including blow-up, enlarging and the use of brushes, scrapers and other tools.

These manual retouchings sometimes gave his photographs that rather crude look which can be associated with the above-mentioned Freudian concept of unheimlich or “sinister”. Many of them clearly show brushstrokes of black wash on the surface, for example At Charlie Brown’s, Limehouse (1946), displayed in this section of the exhibition.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'At Charlie Brown's, Limehouse' 1945/1946

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
At Charlie Brown’s, Limehouse
1945/1946
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'At Charlie Brown's, Limehouse' 1945/1946

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
At Charlie Brown’s, Limehouse
1945/1946
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

In the background of this image, taken in one of London’s East End pubs, is another one: a poster issued by the military Red Cross and referring to that organisation’s work on the battlefields during World War I. It is not known why, in the second version of the image, Brandt partly obscured the poster with black wash, the medium he most commonly used to retouch his photographs.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'A snicket in Halifax' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
A snicket in Halifax
1937
25.40 x 20.50cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'A snicket in Halifax' 1937

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
A snicket in Halifax
1937, printed later
25.40 x 20.50cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In 1951 Brandt started to develop his photographs using a high contrast paper in order to obtain very dark and light zones in the same image. This led him to develop some of his best known images again, including A snicket in Halifax. In contrast to the earlier prints of that photograph, in which the details of the façade of the building on the left are perfectly visible, he now reinterpreted the image with the façade totally blackened and thus strongly contrasting with the glint on the ramp’s cobblestones while adding a plume of black smoke in the sky.

As early as 1997 Nigel Warburton, an art historian who has undertaken some of the best work on Brandt, questioned the concept of authenticity in this photograph in one of his texts, reflecting on the changes that Brandt had introduced in the prints of his images. Warburton asked which is the most “authentic”, emphasising the fact that the way in which the artist interpreted a single negative had changed over time and rejecting the idea that the simple distinction between what are known as “vintage” prints and later reprints resolves this issue.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, Vasterival, Normandy' 1954

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Vasterival, Normandy
1954
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, Vasterival, Normandy' 1954

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Vasterival, Normandy
1954
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In contrast to photographic purists such as Edward Weston, Brandt had no objection to retouching his images, cropping them or reversing the negative in accordance with his preferences or to meet the requirements of its layout on the printed page. Here we see two versions of the same image with the negative flipped in the enlarger. This is not a unique case and there are other examples in the exhibition: Policeman in a dockland alley, Bermondsey was published in two versions, while Behind the restaurant is a photograph that was always printed in reverse, as evident from the lettering on the boxes.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Policeman in a Dockland Alley, Bermondsey' 1934

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Policeman in a Dockland Alley, Bermondsey
1934
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire' 1944-1945

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire
1944-1945
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

This photograph was included in Brandt’s book Literary Britain (1951) and he recalled how he visited the place various times in order to take it, considering it one of the settings that best conveyed the world of Emily Brontë’s works. The farm, now a ruin, is supposedly the place that inspired her novel Wuthering Heights.

For the painter David Hockney, a great admirer of Brandt, this was one of his favourite photographs but he was extremely disappointed to discover that it is in fact a composite image and that the storm filled clouds, which descend almost to the ground, were taken from another negative and added in the photography lab. The other photograph, taken from higher up on the hill, provides the reverse shot on a foggy winter day.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire' 1944-1945

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire
1944-1945
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Barmaid at the Crooked Billet, Tower Hill' March 1939

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Barmaid at the Crooked Billet, Tower Hill
March 1939
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd

 

 

Bill Brandt employed a wide range of retouching techniques on his prints, which was common practice in analogue photography, in which tiny scratches on the negative or specks of dust that cannot be completely removed leave marks on the photographic paper. In addition, Brandt often attempted to conceal imperfections in the individuals or objects photographed. The most widely used materials for this were watercolour, Conté crayon and even lead pencil. Brandt, however, also frequently used a scraper and Indian ink.

In this photograph the outline of the barmaid’s face, her eye and eyebrows have been reinforced with a metal point to define the lines, while the use of watercolour and Conté crayon allows various imperfections in the area of the left arm to be concealed.

 

Bill Brandt

Born Hermann Wilhelm Brandt in Hamburg in 1904 to a wealthy family of Russian origin, after a period living in Vienna and Paris in 1934 Brandt decided to settle in London. Within the context of growing hostility to all things German due to the rise of Nazism, he attempted to erase all traces of his origins to the point of stating that he was British by nationality. This concealment and the creation of a new personality enveloped Brandt’s life in an aura of mystery and conflict that was directly reflected in his work. His images aim to construct a vision of the country that he embraced as his own, although not of the real country but rather of the idea that he had created of it during his childhood through reading and from stories told by relatives.

Brandt had tuberculosis as a child and it was seemingly in the Swiss sanatoriums at Agra and Davos where his family sent him to convalesce that he first became interested in photography and where he made many of his literary discoveries: Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Kafka, Guy de Maupassant, Ernest Hemingway and Charles Dickens. After some years in Switzerland he moved to Vienna to undergo an innovative treatment for tuberculosis based on psychoanalysis. Imbued with a post-Romantic air, Brandt’s photographs always seems to be located on the edge, provoking simultaneous attraction and rejection.

As the exhibition’s curator Ramón Esparza has noted, they can be related to the concept of unheimlich, a term first used by Sigmund Freud in 1919. The adjective unheimlich – generally translated as “the uncanny”, “the sinister” or “the disturbing”, and which according to Eugenio Trías “constitutes the condition and limit of the beautiful” – is one of the characteristic traits that remains present throughout Brandt’s career. Psychoanalytical theories were one of the fundamental pillars of Surrealism and their influence extended to the entire Parisian cultural scene in the 1930s. Brandt and his first partner, Eva Boros, moved to the French capital in 1930 where he worked as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio. Without ever actively participating in any of the historic avant-garde movements, he undoubtedly assimilated the ideas that circulated in a city filled with young artists, many of them immigrants looking to make their way in the professional art world. Brandt’s images of this period suggest a catalogue of psychoanalytical “themes”, clearly reflecting the influence of Surrealism on him.

Almost all Brandt’s images, both the pre-war social documentary type and those from his subsequent more “artistic” phase, possess a powerful poetic charge as well as that very typical aura of strangeness and mystery in which, as in his own life, reality and fiction are always mixed.

 

The exhibition

Fundación MAPFRE is delighted to be presenting the first retrospective in Spain on Bill Brandt (Hamburg 1904 – London, 1983), considered one of the most influential British photographers of the 20th century. The exhibition, together with Paul Strand. Fundación MAPFRE Collections, inaugurates the KBr Fundación MAPFRE, our new Photography Centre in Barcelona.

The exhibition presents 186 photographs developed by Brandt himself who, over the course of nearly five decades of professional activity, encompassed almost all the principal photographic genres: reportage, portraiture, the nude and landscape, as noted by his biographer Paul Delany in Bill Brandt. A Life, 2004.

The structure of the exhibition, which is divided into six sections, reveals how all these qualities – in which identity and the concept of “the uncanny” become the principal ones – blend together in the work of this eclectic artist. Above all Brandt was considered a flâneur or stroller in a way comparable to his admired Eugène Atget, whom he always considered one of his masters.

 

The early photographs

After initiating his activities as a photographer in Vienna, where he produced the famous and widely praised portrait of the poet Ezra Pound in 1928, Bill Brandt left for Paris in order to work for a short period as an assistant in Man Ray’s studio. In the French capital Brandt encountered Surrealism, which would influence his work from that point onwards. Some of his images, such as Balloon flying over the northern suburbs of Paris (1929), can be related to the psychoanalytical theories of Freud, who considered a hot air balloon in a dream to be a symbol of the masculine. Brandt’s photographs of this period are also closely related to the earlier work of his admired Eugène Atget; like him, Brandt photographed street scenes and Parisian nightlife (images that precede his subsequent, better known work) in which the above-mentioned notion of the disturbing makes its appearance.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Evening in Kew Gardens' 1932

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Evening in Kew Gardens
1932
25.24 x 20.48cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Brandt and his partner Eva Boros (another of Man Ray’s students who had previously studied with André Kertész) travelled on numerous occasions to the Hungarian steppes, to his native Hamburg and to Spain, where they visited Madrid and Barcelona among other cities and with the plan of spending their holidays in Majorca before moving to London in 1934. It was at this point that Brandt shed his German origins, even to the point of inventing British nationality for himself and creating a body of work in which the United Kingdom – a country marked by significant social inequality at that time – established itself as the core of his identity.

 

Upstairs, downstairs

“Bill Brandt was a man who loved secrets, and needed them. The face he presented to the world was that of an English-born gentleman, someone who could easily blend in with the racegoers at Ascot whom he liked to photograph. [A] façade which he would defend with outright lies if he had to […]. Today, many people are eager to discover their roots and make an identity from them. Brandt did the exact opposite: he buried his true origins and presented himself as a completely different person from the one he had been, in reality, for the first twenty-five years of his life.”

Paul Delany starts his biography of Bill Brandt with these lines. According to that author, Brandt not only wanted to live in England but to become English, which was understandable in the context of the growing British antipathy to Nazi Germany and to the events that followed Hitler’s rise to power and the outbreak of World War II. In the London art world it was habitual practice for emigrants arriving from Germany to change their name. Among those who had done so were Stefan Lorant, a Hungarian who had been the editor-in-chief of the Münchner Illustrierte Presse, and two of his photographers, Hans Baumann and Kurt Hübschmann, who anglicised their names to Felix Man and Kurt Hutton, just as Brandt changed his first name to Bill.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'East End girl dancing the 'Lambeth Walk'' March 1939

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
East End girl dancing the ‘Lambeth Walk’
March 1939
22.86 x 19.68cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In February 1936, two years after his arrival in London, Brandt published his first book, The English at Home. Despite their natural, spontaneous appearance, the scenes reproduced in the book were carefully prepared in advance. For this first book Brandt opted for a wide, album format and made use of one of the design formats most commonly employed in Central European graphic publications: the combination of opposites in order to create a significant contrast between each pair of photographs. Brandt aimed to juxtapose and counterbalance two different social classes on each double-page spread, developing two parallel narrative discourses but without mixing them together. We thus see family scenes of the upper classes out strolling or dining, followed by the same activities undertaken by working-class and mining families. Two years after the publication of The English at Home Brandt published A Night in London, which represents a type of replica of a work by Brassaï, one of the photographers he most admired, whose book Paris de nuit had appeared in France six years earlier. A Night in London can be seen as Brandt’s contribution to the photographic and cinematographic genre that some art historians have termed “the symphony of the metropolis.”

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Elephant & Castle Underground' 1940

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Elephant & Castle Underground
1940
25.72 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Elephant and Castle underground station during WWII. 1942. Deep underground at Elephant and Castle Underground station, Bill Brandt photographed many hundreds sleeping as they sought shelter from the Blitz overhead.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Brandt started to work for the Ministry of Information, producing two of his most celebrated series. The first comprises photographs of hundreds of Londoners sleeping in Underground stations converted into improvised shelters, while the second portrays the city on the surface; a ghostly London lit only by moonlight as a safety precaution due to the air raids. The United Kingdom had become a single country united against the enemy. Brandt abandoned the class differences that he had previously portrayed in favour of other types of scenes which denounced the effects of the war on the civilian population.

 

Portraits

While Brandt produced photographs on an independent basis that he would subsequently group together for his different books, much of his output appeared in publications and magazines such as Picture Post, as well as in Lilliput and in the American edition of Harper’s Bazaar, for which he started to work in 1943. It was at this point that he turned to portraiture as a professional activity. His first reference to his portraits, of which more than 400 are known, was published in Lilliput in 1948. In Brandt’s words: “André Breton once said that a portrait should not only be an image but an oracle one questions, and that the photographer’s aim should be a profound likeness, which physically and morally predicts the subject’s entire future. […] The photographer has to wait until something between dreaming and action occurs in the expression of a face.”

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Francis Bacon' c. 1951

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Francis Bacon
c. 1951
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

Brandt’s portraits evolved over time. Some mark a break with tradition, such as the images published in Lilliput in 1941 to accompany the article “Young Poets of Democracy”, which included some of the most famous faces of the writers and poets of the Auden generation. He subsequently began to distort the space in his images, as evident in Francis Bacon on Primrose Hill, London (1963), and also produced a new series of portraits of eyes of clearly Surrealist inspiration. The eyes of Henry Moore, Georges Braque and Antoni Tàpies are among the examples of gazes that transformed the way of seeing and representing the world.

 

Landscape described

Following his focus on portraiture, Brandt introduced landscape into his repertoire, thus encompassing all the categories traditionally considered to constitute the classic artistic genres. In his landscapes he aimed to introduce an atmosphere – a term that for Brandt seems to involve an entire series of aesthetic references associated with both the pictorial and the literary traditions – which connects with the viewer in order to provoke an emotional response from contemplation of the image. In this sense it would seem that Brandt did not aim to merely represent a place but to capture its very essence in a single image, as in Halifax; “Hail Hell & Halifax” (1937) and Cuckmere River (1963). When these landscapes started to include stone constructions such as tombs and crosses Brandt considered that he had achieved his aim of capturing the atmosphere.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Cuckmere River' (Río Cuckmere) 1963

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Cuckmere River (Río Cuckmere)
1963
20 x 24.13cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

It should be remembered that for Brandt the concept of landscape was deeply rooted in painting and the photographic tradition but also in literature. Literary Britain, which was published in 1951, makes this relationship clear. Using images already published in other weekly magazines as well as photographs specially taken for this book, Brandt accompanied his photographs with extracts from works by British authors. It is here that an explanation of his somewhat imprecise concept of “atmosphere” can be found: the moment when the different elements that make up the landscape (nature, light, viewpoint, weather conditions) converge in an aesthetic canon rooted in a cultural tradition.

 

Nudes

When Brandt focused again on the theme of the nude in 1944 he seemed to feel the need to return to a more poetic type of image. For the artist, documentary photography had become a widely extended fashion while the old Great Britain with its marked class divisions was now something of the past. It should also be remembered that the nude is one of the traditional themes of painting and as such signals Brandt’s evolution from documentary photography to the social status of “artist”. For this transition he made use of an old plate camera with a lens that produced an effect of broad spatiality and depth, transforming the everyday space of a room into a dreamlike setting.

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983) 'Nude, Baie des Anges, France' 1959

 

Bill Brandt (British, born Germany 1904-1983)
Nude, Baie des Anges, France (Desnudo, Baie de Anges, Francia)
1959
25.24 x 20.32cm
Private collection
Courtesy Bill Brandt Archive and Edwynn Houk Gallery
© Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.

 

 

In the 1950s Brandt visited the beaches of Normandy in order to make a series of portraits of the painter Georges Braque. Seeing those pebble beaches led to a change of direction and he started to photograph stones and parts of the female body as if they were stones themselves. He combined flesh and rock, heat and cold, hardness and softness in a single formal discourse. The distortions are often so pronounced that the parts of the body have lost any reference point but they nonetheless produce sensations that are more poetic or profound. It may be that for Brandt these “fragments” of the human body in comparison or communion with natural forms represented primordial forms of some type through which we can perceive “the totality of the world”, as with the Urformen of the Gestalt School and its theory of perception.

In the late 1970s Brandt again returned to the theme of the nude but these images bear no relation to his earlier ones. They transmit a certain sense of violence which reveals the alienation of an artist who no longer felt himself part of the world in which he lived.

 

In Praise of Imperfection

In the introduction to Camera in London, his book on that city published in 1948, Brandt wrote: “I consider it essential that the photographer should do his own printing and enlarging. The final effect of the finished print depends so much on these operations. And only the photographer himself knows the effect he wants.” Brandt was far more concerned than many other photographs with the actual developing of his analogue photographs. He considered working in the photographic lab to be essential and he could spend hours there in order to ensure complete control over the final image, which in most cases was the stage prior to the publishing process when the image appeared in a book or magazine. At the outset of his career he had learned a wide range of traditional techniques, including blow-up, enlarging and the use of brushes, scrapers and other tools, as can be seen in the works displayed in the case in this room, which include various prints of the same image retouched in different ways. These manual retouchings sometimes gave his photographs that rather crude look which can be seen in the context of the above-mentioned Freudian concept of unheimlich or “the uncanny”. A large number of these images clearly show brushstrokes of black wash on the surface. Another example is Top Withens, West Riding, Yorkshire of 1945, an image taken for Brandt’s book Literary Britain. It includes clear signs that the stormy sky which gives the landscape a more threatening appearance was added later in the lab.

 

The catalogue

The catalogue that accompanies the exhibition includes reproductions of all the works on display, in addition to a principal essay by the project’s curator, Ramón Esparza, doctor of Communication Sciences and professor of Audiovisual Communication at the Universidad del País Vasco, and another by Maud de la Forterie, doctor in Art History at the Sorbonne, whose doctoral thesis was devoted to the work of Bill Brandt. The catalogue also features an essay by Nigel Warburton on the artist, originally published in 1993 and revised for the present edition, and Bill Brandt’s text “A Statement” which was published in the magazine Album in March 1970.

 

 

FUNDACIÓN MAPFRE – Instituto de Cultura
Paseo de Recoletos, 23
28004 Madrid, Spain
Phone: +34 915 81 61 00

Opening hours:
Monday (except holidays) from 2.00pm – 8.00pm
Tuesday to Saturday from 11.00am – 8.00pm
Sundays and holidays from 11.00am – 7.00pm

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26
Jun
20

Photobook: E. O. Hoppé. ‘Picturesque Great Britain: Its Architecture and Landscape’ 1926 Part 4

June 2020

Publisher: Ernst Wasmuth A.G. / Berlin
With an Introduction by Charles F. G. Masterman

 

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'York Minster' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
225: York Minster
1926

 

 

The last in my four part series on photographs which appear in E. O. Hoppé’s Picturesque Great Britain: Its Architecture and Landscape (1926).

This posting features photographs of the Lake District, Scotland and Ireland.

Today, it seems incredibly strange that Hoppé would include Dublin and all parts Ireland in the catch all “Great Britain”, especially as most of Ireland gained independence from Great Britain in 1922, after the bloody Irish War of Independence.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. These photographs are published under fair use conditions for educational purposes only.

 

This magnificent set of pictures displays, with all the art of genius both in selection and technical skill, the beauty of the British Isles. I know of no similar collection which could give alike to the foreigner who wonders what England is like, to the Englishman who has wandered from his native land into all the great dominions of the world, and to the man who has remained behind, that particular sense of pleasure mingled with pain which all beauty excites, and excites especially a passionate love in the vision of home.

This is an introduction to pictures of the landscapes and the works of man; these latter ennobled by the associations of time, and in some cases by time’s decay. They open vistas through which one may gaze at the history of England for a thousand years.

Charles F. G. Masterman

 

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Roman Wall' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
234: Roman Wall
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'In Westmorland Country' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
235: In Westmorland Country
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Kendal, Westmorland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
236: Kendal, Westmorland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Windemere, Westmorland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
237: Windemere, Westmorland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Newcastle, Northumberland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
238: Newcastle, Northumberland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Carter Bar, Northumberland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
239: Carter Bar, Northumberland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Dunbar, Scotland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
240: Dunbar, Scotland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Dunbar, Scotland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
241: Dunbar, Scotland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Edinburgh Castle, Scotland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
242: Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)'The Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
243: The Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Canongate with Tolbooth, Edinburgh, Scotland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
244: Canongate with Tolbooth, Edinburgh, Scotland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Advocates Walk, Edingburgh, Scotland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
248: The Advocates Walk, Edingburgh, Scotland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Forth Bridge, Edingburgh, Scotland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
249: Forth Bridge, Edingburgh, Scotland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Viaduct, Montrose, Scotland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
255: The Viaduct, Montrose, Scotland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Near Peebles, Scotland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
257: Near Peebles, Scotland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Harbour, Aberdeen, Scotland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
259: The Harbour, Aberdeen, Scotland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Deeside, Aberdeen, Scotland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
261: Deeside, Aberdeen, Scotland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Braemar Castle, Scotland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
262: Braemar Castle, Scotland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Devil's Elbow, Scotland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
264: Devil’s Elbow, Scotland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'On the Road to Balmoral, Scotland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
265: On the Road to Balmoral, Scotland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Highland Cattle, Scotland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
267: Highland Cattle, Scotland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Loch Lomond, Scotland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
268: Loch Lomond, Scotland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'A Scottish Sunset' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
269: A Scottish Sunset
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Scottish Highlands' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
272: The Scottish Highlands
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The College Green, Dublin, Ireland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
273: The College Green, Dublin, Ireland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Loch Tulla, Argyllshire, Scotland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
274: Loch Tulla, Argyllshire, Scotland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Dumbarton, Scotland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
275: Dumbarton, Scotland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
276: Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Christchurch, Dublin, Ireland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
277: Christchurch, Dublin, Ireland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Christchurch, Dublin, Ireland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
278: Christchurch, Dublin, Ireland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Custom's House, Dublin, Ireland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
279: The Custom’s House, Dublin, Ireland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Spittal of Glenshee, Scotland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
280: Spittal of Glenshee, Scotland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Powerscourt, Enniskerry, Ireland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
281: Powerscourt, Enniskerry, Ireland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Lambay Castle, Ireland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
283: Lambay Castle, Ireland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Luccan, Ireland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
284: Luccan, Ireland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Glendalough Lake, Ireland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
287: Glendalough Lake, Ireland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Glendalough, Ireland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
289: Glendalough, Ireland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Carrick-on-Suir, Ireland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
291: Carrick-on-Suir, Ireland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Carrick-on-Suir, Ireland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
292: Carrick-on-Suir, Ireland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Middle Lake, Killarney, Ireland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
293: The Middle Lake, Killarney, Ireland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Cathedral, Cork, Ireland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
296: The Cathedral, Cork, Ireland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Memorial Church, Cork, Ireland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
297: The Memorial Church, Cork, Ireland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Lower Lake, Killarney, Ireland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
299: The Lower Lake, Killarney, Ireland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The River Shannon, Limerick, Ireland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
301: The River Shannon, Limerick, Ireland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Limerick, Ireland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
302: Limerick, Ireland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Cathedral, Limerick, Ireland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
303: The Cathedral, Limerick, Ireland
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Scalp Mountains, Ireland' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
304: The Scalp Mountains, Ireland
1926

 

 

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12
Jun
20

Photobook: E. O. Hoppé. ‘Picturesque Great Britain: Its Architecture and Landscape’ 1926 Part 3

June 2020

Publisher: Ernst Wasmuth A.G. / Berlin
With an Introduction by Charles F. G. Masterman

 

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Market Cross, Castlecoombe, Wiltshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
145: Market Cross, Castlecoombe, Wiltshire
1926

 

 

Part 3 of my humungous posting on photographs from E.O. Hoppé’s book Picturesque Great Britain: Its Architecture and Landscape 1926.

I found a little more information about Hoppé’s process:

“He travelled across many countries including Great Britain, Germany, Czechoslovakia, the United States, India, Africa, Australia and New Zealand for projects such as the Orbis Terrarum book series for the Berlin-based publishing company Ernst Wasmuth Verlag, and devoted months, often a year or more, of his careful, meticulous attention to each of these countries in order to, as he himself once wrote, eventually select from 5000 negatives 300 images that could together with a text for the respective country, represent the selected topic and be published.”

Over a year in time, taken from 5000 negatives, to select 300 images. This means that Hoppé was working on a ratio of using about 6% of all the photographs of a subject that he took. From my personal experience I always work on 10% of what I take being “good” images, with about 5% actually being usable in a series, sequence or body of work.

As in the earlier postings, we can again see many of his compositional devices at work: double vanishing points (189: Norwich Cathedral, Norfolk), occlusion of foreground looking at subject in distance (186: Castle Rising, Norfolk; 199: Hop Poles & Oast Houses, Kent), superb use of “near far” (185: The Harbour, Kings Lynn, Norfolk; 190: The Broads at Wrexham, Norfolk), modernity and the geometric construction of the image plane (169: Caius Cambridge, Cambridge), strong elements holding up one side of the image and leading the eye into the subject (156: Pangbourne, Berkshire; 183: Walberswick, Suffolk); and wonderful use of light and chiaroscuro to picture atmosphere and emotion in the archaic and modern (218: The Canal, Manchester, Lancashire; 219: Warehouses, Manchester, Lancashire; 221: Steelworks, Sheffield, Yorkshire; 227: Evening, York).

Boy, would I like to see the ones he rejected!

Marcus

.
Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. These photographs are published under fair use conditions for educational purposes only.

 

This magnificent set of pictures displays, with all the art of genius both in selection and technical skill, the beauty of the British Isles. I know of no similar collection which could give alike to the foreigner who wonders what England is like, to the Englishman who has wandered from his native land into all the great dominions of the world, and to the man who has remained behind, that particular sense of pleasure mingled with pain which all beauty excites, and excites especially a passionate love in the vision of home.

This is an introduction to pictures of the landscapes and the works of man; these latter ennobled by the associations of time, and in some cases by time’s decay. They open vistas through which one may gaze at the history of England for a thousand years.

Charles F. G. Masterman

 

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'At Hatfield, Hertfordshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
147: At Hatfield, Hertfordshire
1926

 

 

Emil Otto Hoppé (born 1878 in Munich, died 1972 in England) was an exciting and mysterious phenomenon. During his lifetime, especially in the 1910s, 20s, 30s and 40s, he was one of the most famous photographers in the world and a highly-respected portrait photographer in London, with a large house and studio in South Kensington (Millais House, which had 27 rooms on four floors and had previously been inhabited by the renowned Victorian painter John Everett Millais) as well as a clientele comprising the most important politicians, businessmen, artists, dancers, poets, writers, philosophers and of course the English nobility, including Queen Mary and King George V. For many years he was a dedicated travel photographer. He travelled across many countries including Great Britain, Germany, Czechoslovakia, the United States, India, Africa, Australia and New Zealand for projects such as the Orbis Terrarum book series for the Berlin-based publishing company Ernst Wasmuth Verlag, and devoted months, often a year or more, of his careful, meticulous attention to each of these countries in order to, as he himself once wrote, eventually select from 5000 negatives 300 images that could together with a text for the respective country, represent the selected topic and be published. “Romantic America”, “Picturesque Great Britain: The Architecture and the Landscape”, “Romantik der Kleinstadt”, “The Fifth Continent” [Australia] and “Deutsche Arbeit” are the titles of just some of the 20 books he published in his lifetime. …

The first task in the development of the history of photography was to build as simple a framework as possible and to gain a recognisable, nameable overview of the key movements. The work of Emil Otto Hoppé perhaps simply did not to fit in; instead his diversity and attitude must have been unsettling. On the one hand, he threw quite a modern look on the people, villages, landscapes and especially industries. At the same time he was for long periods wont to print his pictures in more tonal and soft-focus ways. His black-and-white pictures are often characterised by a particularly dense and colourful tonality, while his portraits (and other genres) are often soft and almost a little out-of-focus. He himself describes printing his portraits as follows in his autobiography “Hundred Thousand Exposures: The Success of a Photographer” from 1945: “I use a soft-focus lens in the enlarger. I begin the exposure with the smallest stop considered advisable. During the exposure the iris diaphragm is slowly opened and closed. The effect is calculated by dividing the estimated exposure by the smallest stop used in the process and closing the iris diaphragm for fractions of the period which are approximately 1/5, 1/20, 3/4 (…) The final effect is a roundness which I have not found it possible to obtain by another method.” …

In a speech delivered by E.O. Hoppé to the Royal Photography Society in 1946, he addressed some of these issues himself. For example: “The function of the camera here would be to make a simple, straightforward picture, which probably would not be accepted by any Salon of Photography. No tricks of exposure, angle or printing would have a place.” […] “The search for the most effective angle is the prime task of the photographer, and his success will largely be judged by his success in that search. The harm comes when he does not look for the most effective angle but for the most bizarre and peculiar.” […] “I see no reason to think a man a better artist because he ignores public taste, despises supply and demand and has dirty finger-nails.” […] “Similarly, I cannot agree with the intellectual snobbishness which declares that a man who wears a clean shirt and has a bank account is necessarily a tradesman and cannot be an artist.” His line of argument seems to address some reasons why his work was for a long time forgotten vis-à-vis a romantic image of the artist and the search for an approach that could be precisely isolated and named.

Anonymous. “Emil Otto Hoppé: Unveiling a Secret Industrial Photographs, 1912-1937,” on the Urs Stahel website January 2015 [Online] Cited 18 May 2020

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Spires of Oxford, Oxfordshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
148: The Spires of Oxford, Oxfordshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Cloisters, New College, Oxford' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
150: The Cloisters, New College, Oxford
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Pangbourne, Berkshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
156: Pangbourne, Berkshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'West Hagbourne, Berkshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
157: West Hagbourne, Berkshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Trinity Gates, Cambridge' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
164: Trinity Gates, Cambridge
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Caius Cambridge, Cambridge' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
169: Caius Cambridge, Cambridge
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Old Inn & Hostelry, Cambridge' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
171: Old Inn & Hostelry, Cambridge
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Haddenham, Cambridgeshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
172: Haddenham, Cambridgeshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Housetops, Cathedral Close, Ely, Cambridgeshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
175: Housetops, Cathedral Close, Ely, Cambridgeshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
177: Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
178: Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Fine Specimens of Ancient Domestic Architecture, Plastered Houses at Ipswich, Suffolk' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
181: Fine Specimens of Ancient Domestic Architecture, Plastered Houses at Ipswich, Suffolk
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Near Walberswick, Suffolk' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
182: Near Walberswick, Suffolk
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Walberswick, Suffolk' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
183: Walberswick, Suffolk
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Market House, Wymondham, Norfolk' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
184: Market House, Wymondham, Norfolk
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Harbour, Kings Lynn, Norfolk' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
185: The Harbour, Kings Lynn, Norfolk
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Castle Rising, Norfolk' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
186: Castle Rising, Norfolk
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Cottage at Southery, Norfolk' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
187: Cottage at Southery, Norfolk
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Norwich Cathedral, Norfolk' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
189: Norwich Cathedral, Norfolk
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Broads at Wrexham, Norfolk' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
190: The Broads at Wrexham, Norfolk
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'An Essex Landscape' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
193: An Essex Landscape
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Beeleigh Abbey, Essex' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
195: Beeleigh Abbey, Essex
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Plastered House, Safron Walden, Essex' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
196: Plastered House, Safron Walden, Essex
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Friars, Aylesford, Kent' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
198: The Friars, Aylesford, Kent
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Hop Poles & Oast Houses, Kent' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
199: Hop Poles & Oast Houses, Kent
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Staplehurst, Kent' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
200: Staplehurst, Kent
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Allington Castle, Kent' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
201: Allington Castle, Kent
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Allington Castle, Maidstone, Kent' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
202: Allington Castle, Maidstone, Kent
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Allington Castle, Maidstone, Kent' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
203: Allington Castle, Maidstone, Kent
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Old Smithy, Penhurst, Kent' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
205: The Old Smithy, Penhurst, Kent
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Penhurst, Kent' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
207: Penhurst, Kent
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Cobham Hall, Gravesend, Kent' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
208: Cobham Hall, Gravesend, Kent
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Canterbury Cathedral, Kent' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
211: Canterbury Cathedral, Kent
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Weavers, Cantebury, Kent' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
213: The Weavers, Cantebury, Kent
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Tideswell Cathedral, Derbyshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
215: Tideswell Cathedral, Derbyshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Canal, Manchester, Lancashire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
218: The Canal, Manchester, Lancashire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Warehouses, Manchester, Lancashire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
219: Warehouses, Manchester, Lancashire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Steelworks, Sheffield, Yorkshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
221: Steelworks, Sheffield, Yorkshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Steelworks, Sheffield, Yorkshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
222: Steelworks, Sheffield, Yorkshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
224: Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Evening, York' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
227: Evening, York
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Galilee Chapel, Durham Cathedral' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
228: Galilee Chapel, Durham Cathedral
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Durham Cathedral, Durham' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
229: Durham Cathedral, Durham
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'In Durham Cathedral' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
231: In Durham Cathedral
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Cloisters, Durham Cathedral' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
232: The Cloisters, Durham Cathedral
1926

 

 

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27
May
20

Photobook: E. O. Hoppé. ‘Picturesque Great Britain: Its Architecture and Landscape’ 1926 Part 2

May 2020

Publisher: Ernst Wasmuth A.G. / Berlin
With an Introduction by Charles F. G. Masterman

 

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Land's End, Cornwall' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
74: Land’s End, Cornwall
1926

 

 

In this, the second tranche of photographs from E. O. Hoppé’s 1926 book Picturesque Great Britain: Its Architecture and Landscape, we can analyse some of the techniques of picture construction that the artist has so creatively mastered.

Firstly, that of the floating horizon line. In photographs such as 74: Land’s End, Cornwall; 80: Selworthy, Somerset; 82: Selworthy Church, Selworthy, Somerset; 84: Minehead, Somerset; and 91: Cambden Crescent in Bath, Somerset, Hoppé com/piles the foreground with tone, form and structure, but let’s the eye escape to a distant horizon which moves up and down, according to context, place, space… within the image frame. Time and again he uses this method of allowing the eye to escape the confines of the image.

Secondly, a framing device that the artist is particularly fond of is that of the road, pathway or bridge that helps lead the eye into the image and on to the vanishing point. We can see this approach in photographs such as 96: Approach to Cloisters, Gloucester Cathedral; 97: The Cloisters, Gloucester Cathedral, Gloucestershire; 101: Withe Cottage, Conway, Wales; and 132: The Bridge, Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire.

Another framing device that the artist uses very effectively is what I call the blocked approach (to the subject) – which can be seen in photographs such as 77: Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset; 117: Chester, Cheshire; 119: Norman Arches, Much Wenlock Abbey, Shropshire; and 142: Wilsford Manor, Wiltshire, where the object which is in focus in the distance is revealed through out of focus arches, wood, masonry or pillars.

A further device is that of the mid-distance band within the pictorial plane, where Hoppé contains the important architectural information into a central section of information. In photographs such as 103: Carnavon Castle, Wales; 121: Evesham, Worcestershire; and 144: Bideston, Wiltshire the artist focuses the viewers attention in the mid-distance, where the buildings float between ground and air. Instead of closing in to fill the frame, Hoppé is content, satisfied with things as they are… happy to enunciate in the images the sum of what he has perceived, discovered, and learned about his subject, without the need to approach to closely or force the matter. In other words, he lets the architecture speak for itself within the landscape.

In looking at architectural forms of different periods, Hoppé does not rely on the formulaic, the tried and tested traditions of landscape and architecture photography from the Victorian and Edwardian eras. His is not the normal seeing of flat images with limited depth (of substance, of feeling). He is too talented (and experimental) and artist for that.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. These photographs are published under fair use conditions for educational purposes only.

 

This magnificent set of pictures displays, with all the art of genius both in selection and technical skill, the beauty of the British Isles. I know of no similar collection which could give alike to the foreigner who wonders what England is like, to the Englishman who has wandered from his native land into all the great dominions of the world, and to the man who has remained behind, that particular sense of pleasure mingled with pain which all beauty excites, and excites especially a passionate love in the vision of home.

This is an introduction to pictures of the landscapes and the works of man; these latter ennobled by the associations of time, and in some cases by time’s decay. They open vistas through which one may gaze at the history of England for a thousand years.

Charles F. G. Masterman

 

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Packhorse Bridge, Allerford, Somerset' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
75: Packhorse Bridge, Allerford, Somerset
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
77: Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Selworthy, Somerset' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
80: Selworthy, Somerset
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Selworthy, Somerset' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
81: Selworthy, Somerset
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Selworthy Church, Selworthy, Somerset' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
82: Selworthy Church, Selworthy, Somerset
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'From Porlock Hill, Somerset' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
83: From Porlock Hill, Somerset
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Minehead, Somerset' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
84: Minehead, Somerset
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Minehead, Somerset' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
86: Minehead, Somerset
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Market Place, Dunster' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
87: The Market Place, Dunster
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Royal Crescent, Bath, Somerset' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
89: The Royal Crescent, Bath, Somerset
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Bath, Somerset' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
90: Bath, Somerset
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Cambden Crescent in Bath, Somerset' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
91: Cambden Crescent in Bath, Somerset
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Wells Cathedral, Somerset' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
93: Wells Cathedral, Somerset
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Approach to Cloisters, Gloucester Cathedral' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
96: Approach to Cloisters, Gloucester Cathedral
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Cloisters, Gloucester Cathedral, Gloucestershire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
97: The Cloisters, Gloucester Cathedral, Gloucestershire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Pembridge, Herefordshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
98: Pembridge, Herefordshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Withe Cottage, Conway, Wales' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
101: Withe Cottage, Conway, Wales
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Carnavon Castle, Wales' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
102: Carnavon Castle, Wales
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Carnavon Castle, Wales' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
103: Carnavon Castle, Wales
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Pass of Bwlch-Goerd, Wales' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
105: Pass of Bwlch-Goerd, Wales
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Bwlch-Goerd Pass, on the Road to Bala, Wales' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
106: Bwlch-Goerd Pass, on the Road to Bala, Wales
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Druid Circle, Aberystwyth, Wales' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
107: The Druid Circle, Aberystwyth, Wales
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'On the Bwlch-y-Goerd Pass, Wales' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
108: On the Bwlch-y-Goerd Pass, Wales
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Beddgelert, Carnavonshire, Wales' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
110: Beddgelert, Carnavonshire, Wales
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Llandinam Lake, Mid-Wales' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
111: Llandinam Lake, Mid-Wales
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Snowdon, Wales' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
112: Snowdon, Wales
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Snowdon at Pen-y-Gwryd, Wales' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
113: Snowdon at Pen-y-Gwryd, Wales
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Llanberis Pass, Wales' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
114: Llanberis Pass, Wales
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Wye Valley, Wales' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
115: Wye Valley, Wales
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'In the Wye Valley, Wales' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
116: In the Wye Valley, Wales
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Chester, Cheshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
117: Chester, Cheshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Norman Arches, Much Wenlock Abbey, Shropshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
119: Norman Arches, Much Wenlock Abbey, Shropshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Bridgenorth, Shropshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
120: Bridgenorth, Shropshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Evesham, Worcestershire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
121: Evesham, Worcestershire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Harlebury Castle, Worcestershire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
124: Harlebury Castle, Worcestershire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Worcester Cathedral' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
125: Worcester Cathedral
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Rous Lench, Worcestershire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
126: Rous Lench, Worcestershire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Court Farm, Broadway, Worcestershire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
127: Court Farm, Broadway, Worcestershire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Broadway, Worcestershire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
130: Broadway, Worcestershire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Bridge, Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
132: The Bridge, Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Ann Hathaway's Cottage, Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
133: Ann Hathaway’s Cottage, Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 134: The Grammar School, Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
134: The Grammar School, Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Welfford-on-Avon, Warwickshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
135: Welfford-on-Avon, Warwickshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Leycester Hospital, Warwick, Warwickshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
137: Leycester Hospital, Warwick, Warwickshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Leycester Hospital, Warwick, Warwickshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
138: Leycester Hospital, Warwick, Warwickshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
139: Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)'Stoneleigh Abbey, Near Leamington, Warwickshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
140: Stoneleigh Abbey, Near Leamington, Warwickshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Wilsford Manor, Wiltshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
142: Wilsford Manor, Wiltshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Wilsford Manor, Wiltshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
143: Wilsford Manor, Wiltshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Bideston, Wiltshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
144: Bideston, Wiltshire
1926

 

 

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22
May
20

Photobook: E. O. Hoppé. ‘Picturesque Great Britain: Its Architecture and Landscape’ 1926 Part 1

May 2020

Publisher: Ernst Wasmuth A.G. / Berlin
With an Introduction by Charles F. G. Masterman

 

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Picturesque Great Britain: Its Architecture and Landscape cover' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
Publisher Ernst Wasmuth A.G. / Berlin
Picturesque Great Britain: Its Architecture and Landscape cover
1926
304 photoprints

 

 

E. O. Hoppé

Now there’s a name to conjure with!

I found this book in a charity shop, for $5. I couldn’t believe my luck. Here is a book, published in 1926, by one of the most underrated and oft forgotten of the great master photographers of the early twentieth century. It contains 304 photoprints of his journey around Great Britain – “picturesque” photographs – with all the implications that this name brings forth, with its link to Pictorialist photography.

Except, some of these photographs are far from “picturesque” ((of a place or building) visually attractive, especially in a quaint or charming way.) In fact, for the time, they can be seen as downright modern in their composition. Hoppé’s construction of the pictorial frame is exquisite. A wonderful sense of balance and proportion, use of chiaroscuro, low depth of field, geometric form, and a shear sense of space pervade these images. His use of near / far is a joy to behold, as he holds the foreground while drawing the viewers gaze into the distance, to an attendant bridge or dome of St Paul’s cathedral.

In this, the first of a four-part posting, what also strikes one is the rich tonality of these photogravure-like photoprints, with their dark, inky shadows and the sfumato blending of mid tones and highlights. Just look at Plate 33, Hoppé’s photograph of Stonehenge (below) and be swept away by this masters voice. In this photograph, as in many of the photographs, there is an almost abstract quality to them coupled with a wistful romanticism for time and place, for the history of the country he is photographing. Just imagine, hiring a car (or possibly a van) and travelling through a summer around Great Britain taking many many photographs, before whittling them down to the final 300 or so. Did he develop the film in the back of the van after each days shooting, before piling into bed at the local hotel? I don’t know, but I want to go on that road journey!

Being British, these photographs have a great pull and nostalgia for me. I love the British countryside and miss it dearly. What particularly strikes me about them is the absence of people and cars in the photographs, and how archaic and ancient this land seems. Despite being the head of the British Empire, despite being the leader of the Industrial Revolution (pictured throughout the book with pictures of Manchester and the Northern industrial cities), you cannot imagine that this country, a mere 14 years after these photographs were taken, would be on its knees after the withdrawal from Dunkirk, facing invasion from the Nazis… and yet, somehow, hold out, and eventually win the Second World War with the help of Russia and America.

These photographs portray Great Britain as an almost medieval country complete with castle and moat, cathedral and henge, fog descending over the Thames, horse and plough tilling the fields with nere a tractor in sight. People in one’s and two’s tramp the deserted streets, while thatched cottages silently await the rushing conflagration. How Great Britain, pictured here in all its beauty and serenity, survived the coming Armageddon – can perhaps be seen in these photographs very essence, their sense of history and place, of steadfastness and Britishness.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. These photographs are published under fair use conditions for educational purposes only.

 

This magnificent set of pictures displays, with all the art of genius both in selection and technical skill, the beauty of the British Isles. I know of no similar collection which could give alike to the foreigner who wonders what England is like, to the Englishman who has wandered from his native land into all the great dominions of the world, and to the man who has remained behind, that particular sense of pleasure mingled with pain which all beauty excites, and excites especially a passionate love in the vision of home.

This is an introduction to pictures of the landscapes and the works of man; these latter ennobled by the associations of time, and in some cases by time’s decay. They open vistas through which one may gaze at the history of England for a thousand years.

Charles F. G. Masterman

 

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Picturesque Great Britain: Its Architecture and Landscape cover' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
Publisher Ernst Wasmuth A.G. / Berlin
Picturesque Great Britain: Its Architecture and Landscape title page
1926
304 photoprints

 

 

Emil Otto Hoppé (14 April 1878 – 9 December 1972) was a German-born British portrait, travel, and topographic photographer active between 1907 and 1945. Born to a wealthy family in Munich, he moved to London in 1900 to train as a financier, but took up photography and rapidly achieved great success.

He was the only son of a prominent banker, and was educated in the finest schools of Munich, Paris and Vienna. Upon leaving school he served apprenticeships in German banks for ten years, before accepting a position with the Shanghai Banking Corporation. He never arrived in China. The first leg of his journey took him to England where he met an old school friend. Hoppé married his old school friend’s sister, Marion Bliersbach, and stayed in London. While working for the Deutsche Bank, he became increasingly enamored with photography, and, in 1907, jettisoned his commercial career and opened a portrait studio. Within a few years, E.O. Hoppé was the undisputed leader of pictorial portraiture in Europe. To say that someone has a “household name” has become a cliché, yet in Hoppé’s case the phrase is apt. Rarely in the history of the medium has a photographer been so famous in his own lifetime among the general public. He was as famous as his sitters. It is difficult to think of a prominent name in the fields of politics, art, literature, and the theatre who did not pose for his camera.”

Although Hoppé was one of the most important photographic artists of his era and highly celebrated in his time, in 1954, at the age of 76, he sold his body of photographic work to a commercial London picture archive, the Mansell Collection. In the collection, the work was filed by subject in with millions of other stock pictures and no longer accessible by author. Almost all of Hoppé’s photographic work – that which gained him the reputation as Britain’s most influential international photographer between 1907 and 1939 – was accidentally obscured from photo-historians and from photo-history itself. It remained in the collection for over thirty years after Hoppé’s death, and was not fully accessible to the public until the collection closed down and was acquired by new owners in the United States.

In 1994 photographic art curator Graham Howe retrieved Hoppé’s photographic work from the picture library and rejoined it with the Hoppé family archive of photographs and biographical documents. This was the first time since 1954 that the complete E.O. Hoppé Collection was gathered together. Many years were spent in cataloguing, conservation, and research of the recovered work.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'London's River' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
1: London’s River
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'St. Paul’s Cathedral from the Bankside, London' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
2: St. Paul’s Cathedral from the Bankside, London
1926

 

 E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Tower of London' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
3: The Tower of London
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'London Bridge, London' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
4: London Bridge, London
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Thames at Blackfriars, London' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
5: The Thames at Blackfriars, London
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Whitehall, London' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
9: Whitehall, London
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Westminster from the St James' Park, London' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
10: Westminster from the St James’ Park, London
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Hyde Park Corner, London' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
11: Hyde Park Corner, London
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Kensington Gardens, London' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
12: Kensington Gardens, London
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Henley Bridge, Surrey' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
13: Henley Bridge, Surrey
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'High Street, Guildford, Surrey' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
14: High Street, Guildford, Surrey
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Burford, Dorking, Surrey' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
15: Burford, Dorking, Surrey
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Shere, Surrey' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
17: Shere, Surrey
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Sutton Place, Surrey' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
18: Sutton Place, Surrey
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'High Street in Mayfield, Sussex' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
19: High Street in Mayfield, Sussex
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Seaford Cliffs, Sussex' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
22: Seaford Cliffs, Sussex
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Downs at Seaford, Sussex' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
23: The Downs at Seaford, Sussex
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Battlements, Arundel Castle, Sussex' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
24: Battlements, Arundel Castle, Sussex
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Entrance to Keep, Arundel Castle, Sussex' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
25: Entrance to Keep, Arundel Castle, Sussex
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Arundel Castle, Sussex' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
26: Arundel Castle, Sussex
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Old Tilting Court, Arundel Castle, Sussex' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
27: The Old Tilting Court, Arundel Castle, Sussex
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Horsham Church, Sussex' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
28: Horsham Church, Sussex
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Old Houses Horsham, Sussex' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
29: Old Houses Horsham, Sussex
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Cave Lingfield, Surrey' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
30: The Cave Lingfield, Surrey
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Deanery Close, Winchester, Hampshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
31: The Deanery Close, Winchester, Hampshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Atlantic from Bournemouth Cliffs' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
32: The Atlantic from Bournemouth Cliffs
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Stonehenge, Salisbury Plain' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
33: Stonehenge, Salisbury Plain
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Ploughing, Hampshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
34: Ploughing, Hampshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Athelhampton, Dorchester, Dorsetshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
36: Athelhampton, Dorchester, Dorsetshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'St Peters Church, Dorchester, Dorsetshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
40: St Peters Church, Dorchester, Dorsetshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'High Street, In Lyme Regis, Dorsetshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
41: High Street, In Lyme Regis, Dorsetshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Needles, Isle of Wight' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
43: The Needles, Isle of Wight
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Landslide, Luccombe Common, Ventnor, Isle of Wight' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
44: Landslide, Luccombe Common, Ventnor, Isle of Wight
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Torquay, from Marine Drive, Devonshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
45: Torquay, from Marine Drive, Devonshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Coast at Salcombe, Devon' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
47: Coast at Salcombe, Devon
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Exeter Cathedral, Devonshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
49: Exeter Cathedral, Devonshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Exeter Cathedral, Devonshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
50: Exeter Cathedral, Devonshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Porlock, Somerset' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
55: Porlock, Somerset
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Fingle Bridge, Dartmoor, Devonshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
57: Fingle Bridge, Dartmoor, Devonshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Ancient Tomb, Bovey Tracey, Devonshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
60: Ancient Tomb, Bovey Tracey, Devonshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Ashburnham, Devonshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
61: Ashburnham, Devonshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Blackawton, Devonshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
62: Blackawton, Devonshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Bolt Tail, Devonshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
63: Bolt Tail, Devonshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Quai, Clovelly, Devonshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
64: The Quai, Clovelly, Devonshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'High Street in Clovelly, Devonshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
65: High Street in Clovelly, Devonshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Cliffs near Ilfracombe, Devonshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
66: The Cliffs near Ilfracombe, Devonshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'The Harbour, Ilfracombe, Devonshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
67: The Harbour, Ilfracombe, Devonshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Merriefield Church, Devonport, Devonshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
68: Merriefield Church, Devonport, Devonshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Dartmouth, Devonshire' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
70: Dartmouth, Devonshire
1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972) 'Coast at Fowey, Cornwall' 1926

 

E. O. Hoppé (British, born Germany 1878-1972)
71: Coast at Fowey, Cornwall
1926

 

 

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16
May
20

European photographic research tour: V&A Photography Centre, London

Visited October 2019 posted May 2020

 

Unknown photographer. 'Photograph of Allied War exhibition, Serbian Section, V&A' 1917

 

Unknown photographer
Photograph of Allied War exhibition, Serbian Section, V&A (installation view)
1917
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

The older I grow, the more exponentially I appreciate and love these early photographs. Imagine having a collection like this!

Wonderful to see Edward Steichen’s Portrait – Lady H (1908, below) as I have a copy of Camera Work 22 in my collection.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
All iPhone images by Dr Marcus Bunyan. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

 

 

The V&A has been collecting photographs since 1856, the year the Museum was founded, and it was one of the first museums to present photography exhibitions. Since then the collection has grown to be one of the largest and most important in the world, comprising around 500,000 images. The V&A is now honoured to have added the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) collection to its holdings, which contains around 270,000 photographs, an extensive library, and 6,000 cameras and pieces of equipment associated with leading artists and photographic pioneers.

Take a behind-the-scenes look at our world class photography collection following the transfer of the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) Collection, which has enabled a dramatic reimagining of the way photography is presented at the V&A. The photographs curators introduce a series of five highlights that are on display in the new Photography Centre, which opened on 12th October 2018. The first phase of the centre will more than double the space dedicated to photography at the Museum.

Text from the V&A and YouTube websites

 

Unknown photographer. 'Photograph of Allied War exhibition, Serbian Section, V&A' 1917

 

Unknown photographer
Photograph of Allied War exhibition, Serbian Section, V&A (installation view)
1917
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

The V&A has been collecting and exhibiting photographs since the 1850s. This image shows part o a photographic exhibition held over 100 years ago in the same galleries you are standing in today. The exhibition presented a densely packed display of images depicting the Allied Powers during the First World War.

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation views of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (French, 1765-1833) 'Christ Carrying his Cross' 1827

 

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (French, 1765-1833) 'Christ Carrying his Cross' 1827

 

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (French, 1765-1833)
Christ Carrying his Cross (installation views)
1827
Heliograph on pewter plate
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

The French inventor Niépce made the earliest surviving photographic images, which he called ‘heliographs’ or ‘sun-writing’. Only 16 are thought to still exist. Although Niépce experimented with light-sensitive plates inside a camera, he made most of his images, including this one, by placing engravings of works by other artists directly onto a metal plate. He would probably have had the resulting heliographs coated in ink and printed.

 

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (French, 1765-1833) 'Christ Carrying his Cross' 1827

 

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (French, 1765-1833)
Christ Carrying his Cross (installation view)
1827
Heliograph on pewter plate
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

David Octavius Hill (Scottish, 1802-70) and Robert Adamson (Scottish, 1821-48) 'The Adamson Family' 1843-45

 

David Octavius Hill (Scottish, 1802-70) and Robert Adamson (Scottish, 1821-48)
The Adamson Family (installation view)
1843-45
Salted paper print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

The partnership between Scottish painter Hill and chemist Adamson merged the art and science of photography. The pair initially intended to create preliminary studies for Hill’s paintings, but soon recognised photography’s artistic potential. With Hill’s knowledge of composition and lighting, and Adamson’s considerable sensitivity and dexterity in handling the camera, together they produced some of the most accomplished photographic portraits of their time.

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-77) 'The Haystack' 1844

 

William Henry Fox Talbot (British, 1800-77)
The Haystack
1844
From The Pencil of Nature
Salted paper print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Benjamin Brecknell Turner (British, 1815-94) 'Hedgerow Trees, Clerkenleap' 1852-54

 

Benjamin Brecknell Turner (British, 1815-94) 'Hedgerow Trees, Clerkenleap' 1852-54

 

Benjamin Brecknell Turner (British, 1815-94)
Hedgerow Trees, Clerkenleap (installation views)
1852-54
Albumen print; Calotype negative
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Turner took out a licence to practice ‘calotype’ photography from Talbot in 1848. He contact-printed positive images from paper negatives. The negative (below) and its corresponding positive (above) are reunited here to illustrate this process, but the pairing as you see them would not have been the photographer’s original intention for display. Although unique negatives were sometimes exhibited in their own right, only showing positive prints was the norm.

 

Benjamin Brecknell Turner (British, 1815-94) 'Hedgerow Trees, Clerkenleap' 1852-54

 

Benjamin Brecknell Turner (British, 1815-94)
Hedgerow Trees, Clerkenleap (installation view)
1852-54
Albumen print; Calotype negative
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'The Road to Chailly, Forest of Fontainebleau' 1852

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
The Road to Chailly, Forest of Fontainebleau (installation view)
1852
Albumen print from a collodion glass negative
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation views of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'The Marseillaise (The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792), by Francois Rude, 1833-35, Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile, Paris' 1852

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
The Marseillaise (The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792), by Francois Rude, 1833-35, Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile, Paris (installation view)
1852
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'The Marseillaise (The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792), by Francois Rude, 1833-35, Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile, Paris' 1852

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
The Marseillaise (The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792), by Francois Rude, 1833-35, Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile, Paris (installation view)
1852
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69) 'Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup' 1860

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69)
Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup (installation view)
1860
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Fenton was one of the most versatile and technically brilliant photographers of the 19th century. He excelled at many subjects, including war photography, portraiture, architecture and landscape. He also made a series of lush still lives. Here, grapes, plums and peaches are rendered in exquisite detail, and the silver cup on the right reflects a camera tripod.

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69) 'Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup' 1860

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69)
Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup (installation view)
1860
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69) 'Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup' 1860

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69)
Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup (installation view)
1860
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69) 'Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup' 1860 (detail)

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69)
Parian Vase, Grapes and Silver Cup (installation view detail)
1860
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69) 'Still Life with Fruit and Decanter' 1860

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69)
Still Life with Fruit and Decanter
1860
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Oscar Gustaf Rejlander (British, born Sweden 1813-75) 'Head of St John the Baptist on a Charger' c. 1856

 

Oscar Gustaf Rejlander (British, born Sweden 1813-75)
Head of St John the Baptist on a Charger (installation view)
c. 1856
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Rejlander probably intended this photograph to be part of a larger composition telling the biblical story of Salome, in which the severed head of John the Baptist was presented to her on a plate. Rejlander never made the full picture, however, and instead produced multiple prints of the head alone.

 

Oscar Gustaf Rejlander (British, born Sweden 1813-75) 'Head of St John the Baptist on a Charger' c. 1856

 

Oscar Gustaf Rejlander (British, born Sweden 1813-75)
Head of St John the Baptist on a Charger (installation view)
c. 1856
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Francis Frith (British, 1822-98) 'Th', from Egypt, Sinai, and Jerusalem: A Series of Twenty Photographic Views by Francis Frith 1858 (published 1860 or 1862)

 

Francis Frith (British, 1822-98)
The Pyramids of Dahshoor [Dahshur], from the East, from Egypt, Sinai, and Jerusalem: A Series of Twenty Photographic Views by Francis Frith (installation view)
1858 (published 1860 or 1862)
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Frith’s photographs were popular and circulated widely, both because of their architectural interest and because they often featured sites mentioned in the Bible. Photographs of places described in biblical stories brought a new level of realism to a Christian Victorian audience, previously only available through the interpretations of a painter or illustrator.

 

Francis Frith (British, 1822-98) 'Th', from Egypt, Sinai, and Jerusalem: A Series of Twenty Photographic Views by Francis Frith 1858 (published 1860 or 1862)

 

Francis Frith (British, 1822-98)
The Pyramids of Dahshoor [Dahshur], from the East, from Egypt, Sinai, and Jerusalem: A Series of Twenty Photographic Views by Francis Frith (installation view)
1858 (published 1860 or 1862)
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Francis Frith (British, 1822-98) 'The Pyramids of Dahshoor [Dahshur], from the East, from Egypt, Sinai, and Jerusalem: A Series of Twenty Photographic Views by Francis Frith' 1858 (published 1860 or 1862)

 

Francis Frith (British, 1822-98)
The Pyramids of Dahshoor [Dahshur], from the East, from Egypt, Sinai, and Jerusalem: A Series of Twenty Photographic Views by Francis Frith
1858 (published 1860 or 1862)
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'Solar Effect in the Clouds – Ocean' 1856-59

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
Solar Effect in the Clouds – Ocean (installation view)
1856-59
Albumen Print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'Solar Effect in the Clouds – Ocean' 1856-59

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
Solar Effect in the Clouds – Ocean
1856-59
Albumen Print
Art Institute of Chicago
Creative Commons Zero (CC0)

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'The Imperial Yacht, La Reine Hortense, Le Havre' 1856-57

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
The Imperial Yacht, La Reine Hortense, Le Havre (installation view)
1856-57
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'The Imperial Yacht, La Reine Hortense, Le Havre' 1856-57

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
The Imperial Yacht, La Reine Hortense, Le Havre (installation view)
1856-57
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'The Imperial Yacht, La Reine Hortense, Le Havre' 1856-57

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
The Imperial Yacht, La Reine Hortense, Le Havre
1856-57
Albumen print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Public domain

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'Pavilion Richelieu, Louvre, Paris' 1857-59

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
Pavilion Richelieu, Louvre, Paris (installation view)
1857-59
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84) 'Pavilion Richelieu, Louvre, Paris' 1857-59

 

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820-84)
Pavilion Richelieu, Louvre, Paris (installation view)
1857-59
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69) 'Balaclava from Guard’s Hill, the Crimea' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69)
Balaclava from Guard’s Hill, the Crimea (installation view)
1855
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69) 'Balaclava from Guard’s Hill, the Crimea' 1855

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-69)
Balaclava from Guard’s Hill, the Crimea (installation view)
1855
Albumen print
Bequeathed to the V&A by Chauncey Hare Townshend

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879) 'Lucia' 1864-65

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879)
Lucia (installation view)
1864-65
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Charles Lutwide Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll)(British, 1832-98) 'Tea Merchant (On Duty)' and 'Tea Merchant (Off Duty)' 1873

 

Charles Lutwide Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll)(British, 1832-98)
Tea Merchant (On Duty) and Tea Merchant (Off Duty) (installation view)
1873
Albumen prints
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Lewis Carroll is best known as the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but he was also an accomplished amateur photographer. Approximately half of his photographs are portraits of children, sometimes wearing foreign costumes or acting out scenes. Here, Alexandra ‘Xie’ Kitchen, his most frequent child sitter, poses in Chinese dress on a stack of tea chests.

 

Charles Lutwide Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll)(British, 1832-98) 'Tea Merchant (On Duty)' 1873

 

Charles Lutwide Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll)(British, 1832-98)
Tea Merchant (On Duty) (installation view)
1873
Albumen prints
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Charles Lutwide Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll)(British, 1832-98) 'Tea Merchant (Off Duty)' 1873

 

Charles Lutwide Dodgson (also known as Lewis Carroll)(British, 1832-98)
Tea Merchant (Off Duty) (installation view)
1873
Albumen prints
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879) 'Pomona' 1887

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879)
Pomona (installation view)
1887
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

The South Kensington museum (now the V&A) was the only museum to collect and exhibit Julia Margaret Cameron’s during her lifetime. This is one of several studies she made of Alice Liddell, who as a child had modelled for the author and photographer Lewis Carroll and inspired his novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Cameron, Carroll and Liddell moved in overlapping artistic and intellectual circles. Here, surrounded by foliage, a grown-up Alice poses as the Roman goddess of orchards and gardens.

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879) 'Pomona' 1887

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879)
Pomona (installation view)
1887
Albumen print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American 1882-1966) 'Frederick Holland Day' 1900

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American 1882-1966)
Frederick Holland Day (installation view)
1900
Gum platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

The British-American photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn enjoyed success on both sides of the Atlantic. Active in the early 20th century, he gained recognition from a young age as a talented photographer. His style ranged from the painterly softness of Pictorialism to the unusual vantage points and abstraction of Modernism. As well as being a practising photographer, Coburn was an avid collector. In 1930 he donated over 600 photographs to the Royal Photographic Society. The gift included examples of Coburn’s own work alongside that of his contemporaries, many of whom are now considered to be the most influential of their generation. Coburn also collected historic photographs, and was among the first in his time to rediscover and appreciate the work of 19th-century masters like Julia Margaret Cameron and Hill and Adamson.

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia' 1905

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia (installation view)
1905
Gum platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Day made this portrait when he visited the Hampton Institute in Virginia, which was founded after the American Civil War as a teacher-training school for freed slaves. The institute’s camera club invited Day to visit the school and critique the work of its students. Day’s friend and fellow photographer, Frederick Evans, donated this strikingly modern composition to the Royal Photographic Society in 1937.

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia' 1905

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia (installation view)
1905
Gum platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia' 1905

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia (installation view)
1905
Gum platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia' 1905

 

Fredrick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
Head of a Girl, Hampton, Virginia
1905
Gum platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Gertrude Käsebier (American, 1852-1934) 'The Letter' 1906

 

Gertrude Käsebier (American, 1852-1934)
The Letter
1906
Platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Käsebier studied painting before opening a photography studio in New York. Her Pictorialist photographs often combine soft focus with experimental printing techniques. These sisters were dressed in historic costume for a ball, but their pose transforms a society portrait into a narrative picture. In a variant image, they turn to look at the framed silhouette on the wall.

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation views of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Francis James Mortimer (British, 1874-1944) 'Alvin Langdon Coburn at the Opening of His One-Man Exhibition the Royal Photographic Society, London' 1906

 

Francis James Mortimer (British, 1874-1944)
Alvin Langdon Coburn at the Opening of His One-Man Exhibition the Royal Photographic Society, London (installation view)
1906
Carbon print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Annie Wardrope Brigman (American, 1869-1950) 'The Spirit of Photography' c. 1908

 

Annie Wardrope Brigman (American, 1869-1950)
The Spirit of Photography
c. 1908
Platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American 1882-1966) 'Kensington Gardens' 1910

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American 1882-1966)
Kensington Gardens
1910
Platinum print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Cover of 'Camera Work'

 

Cover of Camera Work Number XXVI (installation view)

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973) 'Portrait – Lady H' 1908

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Portrait – Lady H (installation view)
1908
Camera Work 22
1908
Photogravure
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973) 'Portrait – Lady H' 1908

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Portrait – Lady H
1908
Camera Work 22
1908
Photogravure
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'New York' 1916

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
New York (installation view)
1916
Camera Work 48
1916
Photogravure
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) was an American photographer, publisher, writer and gallery owner. From 1903-1917, he published the quarterly journal Camera Work, which featured portfolios of exquisitely printed photogravures (a type of photograph printed in ink), alongside essays and reviews. Camera Work promoted photography as an art form, publishing the work of Pictorialist photographers who drew inspiration from painting, and reproducing 19th-century photographs. It also helped to introduce modern art to American audiences, including works by radical European painters such as Matisse and Picasso.

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American 1882-1966) 'Vortograph' 1917

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (American 1882-1966)
Vortograph (installation view)
1917
Bromide print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Rudolph Koppitz. 'Movement Study' 1925

 

Rudolph Koppitz (American, 1884-1936)
Bewegungsstudie (Movement Study)
1926
Carbon print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Koppitz was a leading art photographer in Vienna between the two World Wars, as well as a master of complex printing processes, including the pigment, gum and broccoli process of transfer printing. Tis dynamic and sensual composition captures dancers from the Vienna State Opera Ballet frozen mid-movement.

 

Herbert Bayer (Austrian American, 1900-85) 'Shortly Before Dawn' 1932-39

 

Herbert Bayer (Austrian American, 1900-85)
Shortly Before Dawn (installation view)
1932-39
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Bayer had a varied and influential career as a designer, painter, photographer, sculptor, art director and architect. He taught at the Bauhaus school in Dessau, Germany, and later began to use photomontage, both in his artistic and advertising work. Using this process, he combined his photographs with found imagery, producing surreal or dreamlike pictures.

 

Herbert Bayer (Austrian American, 1900-85) 'Shortly Before Dawn' 1932-39

 

Herbert Bayer (Austrian American, 1900-85)
Shortly Before Dawn (installation view)
1932-39
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Bernard Eilers (Dutch, 1878-1951) 'Reguliersbreestraat, Amsterdam' 1934

 

Bernard Eilers (Dutch, 1878-1951)
Reguliersbreestraat, Amsterdam (installation view)
1934
Foto-choma Eilers
Given by Joan Luckhurst Eilers

 

 

In the 1930s, the Dutch photographer Bernard Eilers developed an experimental new photographic colour separation process known as ‘Foto-chroma Eilers’. Although the process was short-lived, Eilers successfully used this technique to produce prints like this of great intensity and depth of colour. Here, the misty reflections and neon lights create an atmospheric but modern view of a rain-soaked Amsterdam at night.

 

Bernard Eilers (Dutch, 1878-1951) 'Reguliersbreestraat, Amsterdam' 1934

 

Bernard Eilers (Dutch, 1878-1951)
Reguliersbreestraat, Amsterdam (installation view)
1934
Foto-choma Eilers
Given by Joan Luckhurst Eilers

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) 'Valentine to Charis' 1935

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Valentine to Charis (installation view)
1935
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

When Weston met the model and writer Charis Wilson in 1934, he was immediately besotted. This valentine to her contains a cluster of objects arranged as a still life, including the photographer’s camera lens and spectacles. Some of the objects seem to hold a special significance that only the lovers could understand. The numbers on the right possibly refer to their ages – there were almost thirty years between them.

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999) 'Portrait of Gabrielle ('Coco') Chanel' 1937

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Portrait of Gabrielle (‘Coco’) Chanel
1937
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

Variant, American Vogue, 1 December 1937, p. 86: ‘Fashion: Mid-Season Prophecies’

Caption reads: Chanel in her fitted, three-quarters coat / Mademoiselle Chanel, in one of her new coats that are making the news – a three quarters coat buttoned tightly and trimmed with astrakham like her cap. 01/12/1937

 

Nickolas Muray (American, 1892-1965) 'Women with headscarf, 'McCall’s' Cover, July 1938' 1938

 

Nickolas Muray (American, 1892-1965)
Women with headscarf, McCall’s Cover, July 1938 (installation view)
1938
Tricolour carbro print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Hardware Store' 1938

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Hardware Store (installation view)
1938
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Between 1935 and 1939, the Federal Art Project emptied Abbott to make a series of photographs entitled Changing New York, documenting the rapid development and urban transformation of the city. This picture shows the facade of a downtown hardware store, its wares arranged in a densely-packed window display with extend onto the pavement.

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Hardware Store' 1938

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Hardware Store (installation view)
1938
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Hardware Store' 1938

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Hardware Store
1938
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75) 'Photographs of African masks, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York' 1935

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75)
Photographs of African masks, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (installation view)
1935
Gelatin silver prints
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

In 1935, the Museum of Modern Art commissioned Evans to photograph objects in its major exhibition of African art. Using his 8 x 10 inch view camera, he highlighted the artistry and detail of the objects, alternating between front, side and rear views. In total, Evans produced 477 images, and 17 complete sets of them were printed. Several of these sets were donated to colleges and libraries in America, and the V&A bought one set in 1936 to better represent African art in its collection.

The term ‘negro’ is given here in its original historical context.

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75) 'Photograph of African mask, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York' 1935

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75)
Photograph of African mask, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (installation view)
1935
Gelatin silver prints
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75) 'Photograph of African mask, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York' 1935

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75)
Photograph of African mask, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (installation view)
1935
Gelatin silver prints
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75) 'Photograph of African mask, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York' 1935

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-75)
Photograph of African mask, from an exhibition entitled African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (installation view)
1935
Gelatin silver prints
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Bill Brandt (British, 1904-83) 'Dubuffet’s Right Eye, Alberto Giacometti’s Left Eye, Louise Nevelson’s Eye, Max Ernst’s Left Eye' 1960-63

 

Bill Brandt (British, 1904-83)
Dubuffet’s Right Eye
Alberto Giacometti’s Left Eye
Louise Nevelson’s Eye
Max Ernst’s Left Eye (installation view)
1960-63
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Bill Brandt (British, 1904-83) 'Dubuffet’s Right Eye' 1960-63

 

Bill Brandt (British, 1904-83)
Dubuffet’s Right Eye (installation view)
1960-63
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

German-born Brandt moved to London in the 1930s. In his long and varied career, he made many compelling portraits of people including Ezra Pound, Dylan Thomas, the Sitwell family, Robert Graves and E.M. Forster. For this series he photographed the eyes of well-known artists over several years, creating a substantial collection of intense and unique portraits. The pictures play upon ideas of artistic vision and the camera lens, which acts as a photographer’s ‘mechanical eye’.

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976) 'Simple Still Life, Egg' 1950

 

Josef Sudek (Czech, 1896-1976)
Simple Still Life, Egg (installation view)
1950
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Throughout his career, Sudek used various photographic styles but always conveyed an intensely lyrical vision of the world. Here, his formal approach to a simple still life presents a poetic statement, and evokes an atmosphere of contemplation. Sudek’s motto and advice to his students – ‘hurry slowly’ – encapsulates his legendary patience and the sense of meditative stillness in his photographs.

 

Otto Steiner (German, 1915-78) 'Luminogram' 1952

 

Otto Steiner (German, 1915-78)
Luminogram (installation view)
1952
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Otto Steiner (German, 1915-78) 'Luminogram' 1952

 

Otto Steiner (German, 1915-78)
Luminogram (installation view)
1952
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943) 'True Color' 1974-87

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943) 'True Color' 1974-87

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943)
True Color (installation views)
1974-87
Portfolio of thirty dye transfer prints, printed in 2007
American Friends of the V&A through the generosity of The Michael G. and C. Jane Wilson 2007 Trust

 

 

Known for his dynamic street photography, Cohen’s work presents a fragmented, sensory image of his hometown of Wiles-Barre, Pennsylvania. This set of pictures was taken at a time when colour photography was just beginning to be recognised as a fine art. Until the 1970s, colour had largely been associated with other advertising or family snapshots, and was not thought of as a legitimate medium for artists. Cohen and other photographers like William Eggleston transferred this perception using the dye-transfer printing process. Although complicated and time-consuming, the technique results in vibrant and high quality colour prints.

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943) 'True Color' 1974-87

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943)
True Color (installation view detail)
1974-87
Portfolio of thirty dye transfer prints, printed in 2007
American Friends of the V&A through the generosity of The Michael G. and C. Jane Wilson 2007 Trust

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943) 'True Color' 1974-87

 

Mark Cohen (American, b. 1943)
True Color (installation view detail)
1974-87
Portfolio of thirty dye transfer prints, printed in 2007
American Friends of the V&A through the generosity of The Michael G. and C. Jane Wilson 2007 Trust

 

Graham Smith (British, b. 1947) 'What she wanted & who she got' 1982

 

Graham Smith (British, b. 1947)
What she wanted & who she got (installation view)
1982
Gelatin silver print
The Royal Photographic Society Collection at the V&A Museum

 

 

Since the 1980s, Graham Smith has been photographing his hometown of South Bank near Middlesbrough. His images convey his deep sensitivity towards the effects of changing working conditions on the former industrial north-east. In this photograph, despite the suggested humour of the title, we are left wondering who the couple are and what the nature of their relationship might be.

 

Jan Kempenaers (b. 1968) 'Spomenik #3' 2006

 

Jan Kempenaers (b. 1968)
Spomenik #3
2006
C-type print

The Kosmaj monument in Serbia is dedicated to soldiers of the Kosmaj Partisan detachment from World War II.

 

Jan Kempenaers (b. 1968) 'Spomenik #4' 2007

 

Jan Kempenaers (b. 1968)
Spomenik #4
2007
C-type print

This monument, authored by sculptor Miodrag Živković, commemorates the Battle of Sutjeska, one of the bloodiest battles of World War II in the former Yugoslavia.

 

 

Kempenaers toured the balkans photographing ’Spomeniks’ – monuments built in former Yugoslavia in the 1960s and ’70s on the sites of Second World War battles and concentration camps. Some have been vandalised in outpourings of anger against the former regime, while others are well maintained. In Kempenaers’ photographs, the monuments appear otherworldly, as if dropped from outer space into a pristine landscape.

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

Installation view of the V&A Photography Centre, London

 

 

Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road
London
SW7 2RL
Phone: +44 (0)20 7942 2000

Opening hours:
Daily 10.00 – 17.30
Friday 10.00 – 21.30

V&A website

V&A Photography Centre website

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10
May
20

Exhibition: ‘Aubrey Beardsley’ at Tate Britain, London

Exhibition dates: 4 March – 25 May 2020

The Tate, London has temporarily closed until further notice due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

#MuseumFromHome

 

 

Frederick Evans (British, 1853-1943) 'Aubrey Beardsley [with hands]' 1893

 

Frederick Evans (British, 1853-1943)
Aubrey Beardsley [with hands]
1893
Platinum print and photogravure, mounted on opposing pages of a paper folio
Wilson Centre for Photography

 

 

While working as a clerk, Beardsley spent his lunchtimes browsing in Frederick Evans’s nearby second-hand bookshop. This had an important impact on his developing artistic and literary tastes. Beardsley became close friends with Evans, who was also a talented amateur photographer. The image on the left has become known as the ‘gargoyle portrait’ because Beardsley’s pose echoes the famous carved figure on Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. This portrait was used in early editions of Beardsley’s work and has become the defining image of the artist.

 

 

There he is

There he is, all aquiline nose, patrician air; thin wrists and hands that infinity strengthens,

Mannerist hands, hands like the buttresses of some great cathedral, supporting that noble face.

There he is, this genius of invention, this suave sophisticate, this pervader of decadent beauty,

this grotesque who produced a thousand drawings in seven years, who lived a thousand lives in just seven years.

There he is, this son of Blake, this offspring of Lautrec and japonaiserie,

all primed in subtle sexualities, shocking, fame, subversion… strange.

There he is, love of yellow, flowering enormous genitalia, erotic illustrations of distorting scale, women ambiguity,

as bold as life, diseased as death, driving his body on while his mind accretes mythologies.

Now he stands, a fantastical visionary, existing as product of unchecked imagination.

An illusion, a fabrication of the mind; an unrealisable dream, a fancy,

his utopia a grotesque, chimerical beauty.

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Tate Britain for allowing me to publish the media images in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Tate Britain’s major new exhibition celebrates the brief but astonishing career of Aubrey Beardsley. Although he died tragically young at the age of just 25, Beardsley’s strange, sinuous black-and-white images have continued to shock and delight for over a century. Bringing together 200 spectacular works, this is the largest display of his original drawings in over 50 years and the first exhibition of his work at Tate since 1923.

Beardsley (1872-98) became one of the enfants terribles of fin-de-siècle London, best remembered for illustrating Oscar Wilde’s controversial play Salomé. His opulent imagery anticipated the elegance of Art Nouveau but also alighted on the subversive and erotic aspects of life and legend, shocking audiences with a bizarre sense of humour and fascination with the grotesque. Beardsley was prolific, producing hundreds of illustrations for books, periodicals and posters in a career spanning just under seven years. Line block printing enabled his distinct black-and-white works to be easily reproduced and widely circulated, winning notoriety and admirers around the world, but the original pen and ink drawings are rarely seen. Tate Britain exhibits a huge array of these drawings, revealing his unrivalled skill as a draughtsman in exquisite detail.

The exhibition highlights each of the key commissions that defined Beardsley’s career as an illustrator, notably Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur 1893-4, Wilde’s Salomé 1893 and Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock 1896, of which five of the original drawings are shown together for the first time. As art director of the daring literary quarterly The Yellow Book, the artist also created seminal graphic works that came to define the decadence of the era and scandalised public opinion. Bound editions and plates are displayed alongside subsequent works from The Savoy and illustrations for Volpone 1898 and Lysistrata 1896, in which Beardsley further explored his fascination with eroticism and the absurd.

Beardsley’s imagination was fuelled by diverse cultural influences, from ancient Greek vases and Japanese woodblock prints, to illicit French literature and the Rococo. He also responded to his contemporaries such as Gustave Moreau, Edward Burne-Jones and Toulouse Lautrec, whose works are shown at Tate Britain to provide context for Beardsley’s individual mode of expression. A room in the exhibition is dedicated to portraits of Beardsley and the artist’s wider circle, presenting him at the heart of the arts scene in London in the 1890’s despite the frequent confinement of his rapidly declining health. As notorious for his complex persona as he was for his work, the artist had a preoccupation with his own image, relayed throughout the exhibition by striking self-portraits and depictions by the likes of Walter Sickert and Jacques-Emile Blanche.

Additional highlights include a selection of Beardsley’s bold poster designs and his only oil painting. Charles Bryant and Alla Nazimova’s remarkable 1923 film Salomé is also screened in a gallery adjacent to Beardsley’s illustrations, showcasing the costume and set designs they inspired. The exhibition closes with an overview of Beardsley’s legacy from Art Nouveau to the present day, including Picasso’s Portrait of Marie Derval 1901 and Klaus Voormann’s iconic artwork for the cover of Revolver 1966 by the Beatles.

Aubrey Beardsley is organised by Tate Britain in collaboration with the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, with the generous support of the V&A, private lenders and other public institutions. It is curated by Caroline Corbeau-Parsons, Curator of British Art 1850-1915, and Stephen Calloway with Alice Insley, Assistant Curator, Historic British Art.

Press release from the Tate Britain website

 

 

 

Aubrey Beardsley at Tate Britain – Exhibition Tour | Tate

Join Tate curators Caroline Corbeau-Parsons and Alice Insley as they discuss the iconic illustrator’s short and scandalous career.

Before his untimely death aged twenty-five, Beardsley produced over a thousand illustrations. He drew everything from legendary tales featuring dragons and knights, to explicit scenes of sex and debauchery. His fearless attitude to art continues to inspire creatives more than a century after his death.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'Withered Spring' 1891

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Withered Spring
1891
Graphite, ink and gouache on paper
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Rosenwald Collection

 

 

The framing of the main image by ornamental panels and lettering shows the influence of aesthetic movement illustrators, as well as that of Burne-Jones. The inscription on the gate behind the figure is partly obscured. In full it would read ‘Ars Longa Vita Brevis’ (‘art is long-lasting, life is short’). As Beardsley was diagnosed with tuberculosis aged seven, this Latin saying must have had personal resonance.

 

 

Introduction

Few artists have stamped their personality so indelibly on their era as Aubrey Beardsley. He died in 1898 at the age of just 25 but had already become one of the most discussed and celebrated artists in Europe. His extraordinary black-and-white drawings were instantly recognisable. Then, as now, he seemed the quintessential figure of 1890s decadence.

At the end of the 19th century, a period that had seen vast social and technological changes, many began to fear that civilisation had reached its peak and was doomed to crumble. ‘Decadent’ artists and writers retreated into the imagination. Severing the link between art and nature, they created a new sensibility based upon self-indulgence, refinement and often a love of the bizarre. No other artist captured the danger and the beauty, the cynicism and brilliance of the age as Beardsley did with pen and ink.

Beardsley was diagnosed with tuberculosis at the age of seven. The disease was then incurable, so he knew from childhood that his life would be a brief one. This led him to work at a hectic pace. One contemporary described his determination ‘to fill his few working years with the immediate echo of a great notoriety’. Moving rapidly from style to style, he created well over a thousand illustrations and designs in just five years. Beardsley was catapulted to fame in 1893 by an article about his work in The Studio magazine. He went on to illustrate Oscar Wilde’s play Salome and become art editor of The Yellow Book, a periodical that came to define the era.

Beardsley’s illustrations displayed remarkable skill and versatility, but few people ever saw his actual drawings. He always drew for publication and his work was seen primarily in books and magazines. He was one of the first artists whose fame came through the easy dissemination of images, his reputation growing day by day as his sensational designs appeared.

This exhibition offers a rare chance to see many of Beardsley’s original drawings. It also sets Beardsley in his social and artistic context. Works by other artists punctuate the exhibition, showing how he absorbed diverse artistic influences but always retained his own style.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'Incipit Vita Nova' 1892

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Incipit Vita Nova
1892
Graphite, ink and gouache on paper
Linda Gertner Zatlin

 

 

The title of this drawing refers to Dante Alighieri’s 1294 text La Vita Nuova and translates as ‘New Life Begins’. Some have seen the foetus as a potent symbol for Beardsley. Its significance is unclear beyond linking sexuality, life and death, all key themes in Beardsley’s work. It also reflects his fascination with shocking imagery and the grotesque, the term used traditionally to describe deliberate distortions and exaggerations of forms to create an effect of fantasy or strangeness. He once said, ‘if I am not grotesque I am nothing’.

 

 

Beginnings

Beardsley’s artistic career spanned just under seven years, between 1891 and 1898. When he was 18 he met the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones, an artist he deeply admired. Having seen Beardsley’s portfolio, Burne-Jones responded: ‘I seldom or never advise anyone to take up art as a profession, but in your case I can do nothing else.’ On his recommendation, for a short time Beardsley attended classes at Westminster School of Art.

Beardsley longed for fame and recognition. This went hand in hand with an intensely cultivated self-image and pose as a dandy-aesthete. This important aspect of his identity is illuminated through self-portraits and portraits by his contemporaries throughout the exhibition.

Witty, tall, ‘spotlessly clean & well-groomed’, Beardsley was soon noted for his dandyism. A delight in refinement and artificiality in both dress and manner, dandyism was integral to the decadent creed. Some contemporaries related the artist’s extreme thinness and fragile physical appearance to ideas of morbidity also associated with decadence.

While Beardsley rejected the label of decadence, his work explores many aspects of it, such as a fascination with the ‘anti-natural’ and the bizarre, with sexual freedom and gender fluidity. What present-day society refers to as LGBTQIA+ identities were only just beginning to be formulated and articulated during his lifetime. Beardsley was attracted to women, but he was a pioneer in representing what we might now call queer desires and identities. Though fascinated by all aspects of sexuality, it seems likely that his explorations of these interests were primarily through literature and art.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'Self-portrait' 1892

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Self-portrait
1892
Ink on paper
British Museum
Presented by Robert Ross in 1906

 

 

Apart from a few childish sketches, this is Beardsley’s first recorded self-portrait, made at the age of about 19. His newly adopted centre-parted fringe, fashionable high collar and large bow tie show that he had already formed a distinctive self-image. A few months earlier, he had described himself as having ‘a vile constitution, a sallow face and sunken eyes’.

 

Russell & Sons. 'Portrait of Aubrey Beardsley' c. 1893?

 

Russell & Sons (Photographers)
Portrait of Aubrey Beardsley
c. 1893?
Cartes de visite / cabinet card
Albumen print

Please note: This photograph is not in the exhibition

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898) 'The Finding of Medusa; The Death of Medusa (The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor); Perseus Pursued by the Gorgons' 1875-6

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898)
The Finding of Medusa; The Death of Medusa (The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor); Perseus Pursued by the Gorgons
1875-6
Gouache, paint and ink on paper
Tate. Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1919
Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

This design forms part of Burne-Jones’s ambitious scheme for a series of large wall decorations on the theme of Perseus. Although the work was never completed as he intended, Burne-Jones still proudly displayed ten full-scale preparatory drawings for the panels in his garden studio. They must have made a strong impression on Beardsley when he visited Burne-Jones in August 1891.

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898) 'The Finding of Medusa' 1875-6

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898)
The Finding of Medusa
1875-6
Gouache, paint and ink on paper
Tate. Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1919
Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898) 'The Death of Medusa (The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor)' 1875-6

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898)
The Death of Medusa (The Birth of Pegasus and Chrysaor)
1875-6
Gouache, paint and ink on paper
Tate. Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1919
Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898) 'Perseus Pursued by the Gorgons' 1875-6

 

Edward Coley Burne-Jones (British, 1833-1898)
Perseus Pursued by the Gorgons
1875-6
Gouache, paint and ink on paper
Tate. Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1919
Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

 

 

Perseus eventually discovers Medusa with her sisters, the Gorgons. Unlike her they are all immortal. Using Athena’s mirror to defend himself, Perseus beheads Medusa, at which point the winged horse Pegasus and the warrior Chrysaor spring from her decapitated body. When the Gorgons attempt to punish Perseus for killing their sister, he evades them by using the helmet given to him by the sea nymphs, thus becoming invisible.

Gallery label, June 1993

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'The Litany of Mary Magdalen' 1891

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
The Litany of Mary Magdalen
1891
Graphite on cream wove paper laid down on board
227 × 169 mm
The Art Institute of Chicago, The Charles Deering Collection
Public domain

 

 

The Italian painter Andrea Mantegna (c. 1431-1506) was a key reference for both Burne-Jones and Beardsley. At Burne-Jones’s suggestion, Beardsley particularly studied the early engravings after Mantegna’s designs. Throughout his life Beardsley kept a set of reproductions of these prints pinned to his wall. In this subject of his own invention, he freely borrows details of costume, pose and gesture from figures in various of Mantegna’s works, particularly The Entombment (c. 1465-70).

 

Andrea Mantegna (Italian, c.  1431-1506) 'The Entombment of Christ' c. 1465-75

 

Andrea Mantegna (Italian, c.  1431-1506)
The Entombment of Christ
c. 1465-75
Engraving and drypoint; second state of two
11 7/16 × 16 3/8 in. (29 × 41.6 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1937
Public domain

Please note: This engraving is not in the exhibition

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'Tannhäuser' 1891

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Tannhäuser
1891
Ink, wash and gouache on paper
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Rosenwald Collection
Public domain

 

 

Beardsley was an avid opera-goer. He attended several performances of Wagner’s works at this time, including Tannhäuser at Covent Garden in April or May 1891. He would return to Wagnerian subjects many times in his art and writings. The story of Tannhäuser was a particular favourite. He later made it the subject of his own erotic novella The Story of Venus and Tannhäuser. Here he shows the knight in pilgrim’s robes, among trees that appear like prison bars, trying to find his way back to the goddess’s enchanted realm, the Venusberg.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'Die Götterdämmerung' 1892

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
Die Götterdämmerung
1892
Ink, wash and gouache on paper
Aubrey Beardsley Collection, Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University

 

 

Beardsley took this subject from Wagner’s opera, the title of which translates as ‘The Twilight of the Gods’. It has been suggested that the frieze-like composition depicts three different moments of the story. According to this interpretation, the scene to the right refers to the prologue, showing the Fates, with the bearded Wotan holding his magic spear. He also appears seated at the centre of the composition with Siegfried standing by him to tell his story to a group of hunters. Finally, Wotan may be represented again seated, in profile, wearing his Wanderer’s hat.

 

Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods), is the last in Richard Wagner’s cycle of four music dramas titled Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung, or The Ring for short). It received its premiere at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus on 17 August 1876, as part of the first complete performance of the Ring.

Die Götterdämmerung,” notes Emma Sutton in Aubrey Beardsley and British Wagnerism in the 1890s (2002), “Beardsley’s only drawing of the concluding part of the Ring cycle, was probably prompted by the first performance for a decade of the Ring in London in June and July 1892. It is extremely likely that he attended a performance of the drama; he certainly attended Siegfried, and produced drawings on Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, and of the principle singers, in this year.

No interpretation of the drawing has, to my knowledge, ever been offered, perhaps because its stylistics might suggest that it is an incomplete or experimental, Impressionistic work. The drawing is, however, an intricate and highly knowledgeable representation of Wagner’s work, demonstrating Beardsley’s comprehensive knowledge of Die Götterdämmerung (and, indeed, of the whole cycle) from the very start of the decade. Beardsley presents the gods shrouded in long drapes in a bleak forest setting; with their elongated limbs and enveloping robes they appear androgynous figures, listless and melancholy, entrapped by the sharp bare stems that rise from the border and ground around them.

Despite the undulating lines of the landscape, Die Gotterdammerung is a scene of desolate stasis, bleakly portraying Wagner’s Twilight of the Gods. A compression of several scenes from Wagner’s drama, the drawing is, I would suggest, an extraordinarily innovative and ambitious attempt to evoke concisely the narrative events and cumulative tone of the entire drama.”

~ Emma Sutton, Aubrey Beardsley and British Wagnerism in the 1890s (2002)

.
Anonymous. “Aubrey Beardsley’s “Die Götterdämmerung”,” on the Graphic Arts Collection, Princeton website [Online] Cited 02/03/2020

 

Le Morte Darthur

In early 1892, Beardsley received his first major commission. His friend, the photographer and bookseller Frederick H. Evans, introduced him to J.M. Dent. The energetic and enterprising publisher was looking for an illustrator for Le Morte Darthur, Sir Thomas Malory’s 15th-century version of the legends of King Arthur. Dent planned a substantial edition in the style of William Morris’s Kelmscott Press books. Between autumn 1892 and June 1894 Beardsley produced 353 drawings, including full and double-page illustrations, elaborate border designs and numerous small-scale ornamental chapter headings. He received £250 over the course of this commission. This freed him to leave his hated job as a clerk and focus on art-making.

Beardsley gradually grew weary of this colossal undertaking and went off-brief. Subversive details started to appear in his drawings. He also introduced incongruous characters such as mermaids and satyrs, goat-legged hybrid creatures from classical mythology.

His illustrations were reproduced using the relatively new and economical line block printing process in which drawings are transferred onto printing plates photographically. Beardsley was at first disappointed with the printing of his drawings, but he quickly adapted his style to suit the line block process. Uniquely, this could reproduce both the finest of lines and large, flat areas of black.

The works in this room demonstrate the development of Beardsley’s art over two years, and how he combined many different sources to create his own visual language.

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98) 'The Achieving of the Sangreal' 1892

 

Aubrey Beardsley (British, 1872-98)
The Achieving of the Sangreal
1892
Ink and wash on paper
Private collection

 

 

This is the sample drawing that secured Beardsley the Morte Darthur commission. Dent declared it ‘a masterpiece’, and it was used as the frontispiece for Volume II. It seems to refer to the crucial episode of the book, in Chapter XIV, where Sir Percival kneels to make a prayer to Jesus in the presence of Sir Ector, and the Sangreal (popularly called the Holy Grail) appears to him, ‘borne by a maiden’.