Posts Tagged ‘Gertrude Stein

20
Feb
22

Exhibition: ‘Man Ray: The Paris Years’ at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia

Exhibition dates: 30th October 2021 – 20th February 2022

Curator: Dr. Michael Taylor, VMFA’s Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education

 

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Self-Portrait with Camera' 1930

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Self-Portrait with Camera
1930
Solarised gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York, Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund, Horace W. Goldsmith Fund, and Judith and Jack Stern Gift
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

I remember many many years ago (2004) the National Gallery of Victoria held a major exhibition of the work of Man Ray, the first large-scale exhibition of Man Ray’s photography to have been presented in Australia. The exhibition was organised by the Art Gallery of New South Wales where it set an attendance record for photography exhibitions, with over 52,000 visitors, before travelling to Brisbane and Melbourne – which exhibitions did in those days between state capitals, alas no longer.

All these years later I still remember being impressed by the technical, almost scientific element – and elemental – aspect of Man Ray’s photography, the sheer intensity of his images, and their small, jewel-like size. I was less impressed by the lack of feeling the photographs gave me, as though the photographs were scientific experiments which emphasised “his techniques of framing, cropping, solarising and use of the photogram in order to present a new, ‘surreal’ way of seeing” and which, to my young photographic eyes, saw their lush and enigmatic beauty subsumed in an unemotional technical exercise.

Concentrating on his portrait photographs during his Paris years, this exhibition includes more than 100 portrait photographs made by the artist in Paris between 1921 and 1940. “In choosing portraits for the exhibit, the curator’s objective was to present the complete picture of Man Ray’s pantheon of cultural luminaries… “Since this exhibition is all about storytelling, we wanted to highlight the femme moderne and tell the public of their fierce individuality and creativity,” [Michael] Taylor says, explaining that the women’s inclusion makes for a more dynamic and meaningful exhibition. “These are musicians, models and performers whose contributions have been marginalized due to the legacy of colonialism and racism.” … The portraits chosen for “Man Ray: the Paris Years” reflect not only the staggering range of techniques Ray employed during his Parisian years, but also the fascinating people who inhabited his world. “Innovative, groundbreaking, experimental and completely original, Ray’s portraits are unlike the work of any of his contemporaries,” Taylor says.”1

But to my mind Man Ray’s other photography during this period, such as his 1922 album Champs Délicieux which contained 12 Dada inspired Rayographs (some of his first), his surreal photographic solarisations and his portfolio, Électricité (Electricity) (1931) are more expressive and revolutionary avant-garde statements of the creative power of photography than ever his portraits are.

And while his portrait photographs may be experimental and groundbreaking – all about technique – are they good portraits? That’s the key question. To my eyes his portraits have a “lumpy” quality to them, a kind of enigmatic blankness that never reveals much of the sitters personality. The doll-like beauty of Kiki de Montparnasse (c. 1924, below) becomes a later abstract wistfulness both photographs revealing nothing; a tough, shielded Gertrude Stein (at Home) (1922, below) is not a patch on Imogen Cunningham’s engaging, challenging portrait of 1934; and the portrait of Elsie Houston (1933, below) is just plain uncomfortable in its placement of the bandaged head and hand in the pictorial frame.

Apparently, Man Ray “was in league with the surrealists and, in even his most classical-seeming portraits, revealed a predilection for unexpected juxtapositions, visual rhymes and piercing expressions that can transport you instantaneously to the lip of a volcanic unconscious.” Allegedly.

A volcanic unconscious. Who writes this stuff? I often feel I am looking at different photographs than the ones other people are writing about. Again, “Man Ray’s photography doesn’t simply capture the image of a person, or the ghost that inhabits them. It captures the whole of creative expression – the surreal and sorrowful, the conflict and music, the desperation and freedom that comprise the human narrative.” No it doesn’t… I don’t even think he is a very good portrait photographer! Compared to a Weston, Sander or Lange, a Stieglitz, Arbus or Julia Margaret Cameron, Man Ray’s portraits are modestly proficient evocations at best.

“To be ‘done’ by Man Ray and Berenice Abbott meant that you rated as somebody,” wrote Sylvia Beach, owner of Shakespeare and Company, the legendary bookstore and lending library established in Paris after World War I by the American expatriate. You had made it… immortalised in the negative, promoted in the positive. There is the key. To be worthy, to be “fashion” able. After all, Man Ray was running a commercial photographic studio with Berenice Abbott as his assistant in order to make a living. After Man Ray fired her in 1926 Abbott set up her own studio and they became business rivals.

The two most enticing portrait photographs in the posting are both wistful visages of the female: the slightly out of focus, low depth of field beauty of the direct Lee Miller, an ex-lover of Man Ray, staring down the desiring male gaze, like the most glamorous and scientifically symmetrically perfect “mug shot” you have ever seen; and the soft sfumato (which translated literally from Italian means “vanished or evaporated”) background to the contemporary Mona Lisa that is the vulnerable, tender Berenice Abbott surrounded by vanished shadows and evaporated space. “Leonardo has studied the sky, the elements, the atmosphere, and the light. He takes the approach of a scientist, but translates it into the painting with superb delicacy and finesse. For him the painting doesn’t count. What counts is the knowledge,” observes Louvre Curator Jean-Pierre Cuzin.2

Science, knowledge and atmosphere. Only in this portrait of Berenice Abbott does Man Ray take his love of science and knowledge and approach what Preston Duncan observes: “It is through this aperture that we find the abiding sense that, in all the weight, the struggle, the limitations of our physical form, is an ongoing moment of release.”

A final thought emerges in my consciousness. I wondered whether there is a photograph of Man Ray by Berenice Abbott? Not that I can find…

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Karen Newton. “Storytelling Portraits,” on the Style Weekly website August 31, 2021 [Online] Cited 20/02/2022
  2. Anonymous text. “…Leonardo’s masterful technique,” on the PBS Treasures of the World website [Online] Cited 20/02/2022

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Many thankx to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“The story of Man Ray and Paris has been told, but it’s usually been told through the lens – pardon the pun, it’s a photography show – of Man Ray’s innovations; the Rayograph, Solarization, his friendships, and his network. But what about the subjects?” says Chief Curator, Dr. Michael Taylor. “We took inspiration from the photograph on the cover of this show. It’s the first work you see in the exhibition. This is actually Man Ray taking your portrait. In other words, […] even though it’s called a self-portrait, a camera is photographing him, but he is looking at you with his camera. So we started to think about not just telling Man Ray’s story, which is fascinating, but the story of the sitters, the subjects, the models. …

While the primary focus of the exhibit is on portraiture and the radical expressiveness of his subjects – from the vanguards of femme moderne culture to aerialists in drag – there are some detours into avant-garde Rayography and cinema. This diversity of expression is resonant with Man Ray’s professional dedication to dismantling boundaries – those of gender, race, and national identity, as well as artistic traditionalism and aesthetic philosophy. …

Man Ray’s photography doesn’t simply capture the image of a person, or the ghost that inhabits them. It captures the whole of creative expression – the surreal and sorrowful, the conflict and music, the desperation and freedom that comprise the human narrative. It is through this aperture that we find the abiding sense that, in all the weight, the struggle, the limitations of our physical form, is an ongoing moment of release. It confronts us with the fact we are all winging this strange dance, contributing our solitary note to an overture that is entirely improvised, sharing in the simple hope that we may, for an instant, hear the enormity of the score.”

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Preston Duncan. “The View From Paris,” on the RVA website November 3, 2021 [Online] Cited 02/02/2022

 

All the men of the age are there: Igor Stravinsky, James Joyce, Andre Breton, Picasso and Braque. Equally present are the era’s modern women, including Bernice Abbott, the rarely-as-well-photographed Gertrude Stein, Lee Miller and Virginia Woolf. The real stars, however, are the unknowns. Or rather, those unknown-to-us. “Man Ray used photography to challenge the artistic traditions and break boundaries, including fixed gender roles and racial barriers,” says Michael Taylor, the museum’s chief curator, who conceived the exhibition.

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Daniel Cassady. “‘Paris’s glowing milieu spills onto every corner’: Virginia show theatrically tells the story of Man Ray’s fruitful time in the City of Lights,” on The Art Newspaper website 11 November 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Kiki de Montparnasse' c. 1924

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Kiki de Montparnasse
c. 1924
Gelatin silver print
Francis M. Naumann Fine Art, New York
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Kiki de Montparnasse' c. 1929

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Kiki de Montparnasse
c. 1929
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

Alice Ernestine Prin (French, 1901-1953)

Alice Ernestine Prin (2 October 1901 – 29 April 1953), nicknamed the Queen of Montparnasse, and often known as Kiki de Montparnasse, was a French artist’s model, literary muse, nightclub singer, actress, memoirist and painter. She flourished in, and helped define, the liberated culture of Paris in the 1920s.

Alice Prin was born in Châtillon-sur-Seine, Côte d’Or. An illegitimate child, she was raised in abject poverty by her grandmother. At age twelve, she was sent to live with her mother in Paris in order to find work. She first worked in shops and bakeries, but by the age of fourteen, she was posing nude for sculptors, which created discord with her mother.

Adopting a single name, “Kiki”, she became a fixture in the Montparnasse social scene and a popular artist’s model, posing for dozens of artists, including Sanyu, Chaïm Soutine, Julian Mandel, Tsuguharu Foujita, Constant Detré, Francis Picabia, Jean Cocteau, Arno Breker, Alexander Calder, Per Krohg, Hermine David, Pablo Gargallo, Mayo, and Tono Salazar. Moïse Kisling painted a portrait of Kiki titled Nu assis, one of his best known.

Her companion for most of the 1920s was Man Ray, who made hundreds of portraits of her. She can be considered his muse at the time and the subject of some of his best-known images, including the surrealist image Le violon d’Ingres and Noire et blanche (see below).

She appeared in nine short and frequently experimental films, including Fernand Léger’s Ballet mécanique without any credit.

A painter in her own right, in 1927 Prin had a sold-out exhibition of her paintings at the Galerie au Sacre du Printemps in Paris. Signing her work with her chosen single name, Kiki, she usually noted the year. Her drawings and paintings comprise portraits, self-portraits, social activities, fanciful animals, and dreamy landscapes composed in a light, slightly uneven, expressionist style that is a reflection of her easy-going manner and boundless optimism. …

A symbol of bohemian and creative Paris and of the possibility of being a woman and finding an artistic place, at the age of twenty-eight she was declared the Queen of Montparnasse. Even during difficult times, she maintained her positive attitude, saying “all I need is an onion, a bit of bread, and a bottle of red [wine]; and I will always find somebody to offer me that.”

She left Paris to avoid the occupying German army during World War II, which entered the city in June 1940. …

Prin died in 1953 after collapsing outside her flat in Montparnasse, at the age of fifty-one, apparently of complications of alcoholism or drug dependence. A large crowd of artists and fans attended her Paris funeral and followed the procession to her interment in the Cimetière parisien de Thiais. Her tomb identifies her as “Kiki, 1901-1953, singer, actress, painter, Queen of Montparnasse.” Tsuguharu Foujita has said that, with Kiki, the glorious days of Montparnasse were buried forever.

Long after her death, Prin remains the embodiment of the outspokenness, audacity, and creativity that marked that period of life in Montparnasse. She represents a strong artistic force in her own right as a woman. In 1989, biographers Billy Klüver and Julie Martin called her “one of the century’s first truly independent women.” In her honour, a daylily has been named Kiki de Montparnasse.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Man Ray. 'Noire et Blanche' 1926

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Noire et Blanche
1926
Gelatin silver print
6 7/8 x 8¼ in. (17.5 x 21cm)
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

As far as I know this photograph is NOT in the exhibition

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Gertrude Stein (at Home)' 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Gertrude Stein (at Home)
1922
Gelatin silver print
7 15/16”H × 6 1/16”W (20.16 × 15.4cm)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Gertrude Stein, Writer' 1934

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Gertrude Stein, Writer
1934
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 9/16 × 6 11/16 in.
Frame: 22 5/8 x 16 5/8 x 1 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Berenice Abbott' 1921, printed later

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Berenice Abbott
1921, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

In 1926 Peggy Guggenheim, who often lent her financial support to the Paris colony of artists and writers, telephoned Man Ray to arrange a studio appointment to have her portrait taken, not by Man Ray himself, but by Berenice. Afterwards Man Ray was livid, he now realised that Berenice had become a serious business rival, and the next day he fired her. Berenice immediately made plans to have a studio of her own and friends of Berenice stepped forward to help her. When she made arrangements to purchase a view camera – Peggy Guggenheim lent her the money to pay for it. As partial repayment, Berenice later photographed Peggy’s children. In 1926, she had her first solo exhibition (in the gallery “Au Sacre du Printemps”) and started her own studio on the rue du Bac.

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Wallis Simpson with Chinese Sculpture' 1936

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Wallis Simpson with Chinese Sculpture
1936
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Photographed during the year in which her liaison with Edward VIII became public and he abdicated the throne of the British Empire.

 

 

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts announces its upcoming exhibition, Man Ray: The Paris Years, on view in Richmond from October 30, 2021, through February 21, 2022. Organised by Dr. Michael Taylor, VMFA’s Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education, the exhibition includes more than 100 compelling portrait photographs made by the artist in Paris between 1921 and 1940, featuring cultural luminaries such as Barbette, André Breton, Jean Cocteau, Marcel Duchamp, Ernest Hemingway, Miriam Hopkins, James Joyce, Henri Matisse, Méret Oppenheim, Alice Prin (Kiki de Montparnasse), Elsa Schiaparelli, Erik Satie, Wallis Simpson and Gertrude Stein.

The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Emmanuel “Manny” Radnitzky grew up in New York and adopted the pseudonym Man Ray around 1912. A timely sale of paintings to Ferdinand Howald, an art collector from Columbus, Ohio, provided Man Ray with funds for a trip to Paris, and he arrived in the French capital on July 22, 1921. Although the artist worked in a variety of media over the next two decades, including assemblage, film, sculpture and painting, photography would be his primary means of artistic expression in Paris.

Shortly after moving to France, Man Ray embarked on a sustained campaign to document the international avant-garde in a series of remarkable portraits that established his reputation as one of the leading photographers of his era. Man Ray’s portraits often reflect a dialogue or negotiation between the artist’s vision and the self-fashioning of his subjects. Whether they had their portrait taken to promote their work, affirm their self-image, project their desires, fulfil their dreams or create a new identity, Man Ray’s sitters were not inanimate objects, like blocks of marble to be shaped and coerced, but were instead highly creative cultural and thought leaders who were active participants in the creative act. By telling the stories of his respective sitters and the innovative techniques he used to create their portraits, Man Ray: The Paris Years empowers the subjects portrayed in these photographs and gives them an agency and voice that is not typically realised in monographic accounts of modern artists.

“Timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the artist’s arrival in the French capital and, coincidentally, the near-centennial anniversary of the Spanish flu pandemic, Man Ray: The Paris Years will prove to be a visually provocative and especially relevant exhibition,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s Director and CEO. “This is an opportunity to better understand the lives of his subjects and see Man Ray in a different light.”

“Man Ray used photography to challenge artistic traditions and break boundaries, including fixed gender roles and racial barriers,” said Taylor. “His portraits went beyond recording the mere outward appearance of the person depicted and aimed instead to capture the essence of his sitters as creative individuals, as well as the collective nature and character of Les Années folles (the crazy years) of Paris between the two world wars.”

Man Ray’s radical portraits also capture an important constituency of the avant-garde at this time, namely the femme moderne (modern woman). Adventurous, ambitious, assertive, daring, enterprising and self-assured modern women like American photographers Berenice Abbott and Lee Miller, French artist Suzanne Duchamp and American sculptor Janet Scudder took full advantage of their unprecedented freedom and access to educational and professional opportunities to participate as equals to their male counterparts in the Parisian avant-garde. Although these women came from different classes and economic backgrounds, they shared a collective goal in the 1920s and 1930s to be creatively, financially and intellectually independent.

“Rejecting traditional gender roles and expectations, modern women were interested in erasing sexual differences,” said Taylor. “They often embraced the symbolic trappings and autonomy of their male counterparts including wearing men’s clothes, driving fast cars, smoking cigarettes and sporting tightly cropped ‘bobbed’ haircuts.”

The exhibition also tells the important stories of Black subjects such as Henry Crowder, Adrienne Fidelin and Ruby Richards, whose contributions have often been unfairly relegated to the margins of modernism due to the legacy of colonialism and racism. The artist’s series of portraits of the dancer and singer Ruby Richards, who was born in St. Kitts in the British West Indies and grew up in Harlem, New York, brings to light an important performer whose work with Man Ray has never been acknowledged in previous accounts of his work. Richards moved to Paris in 1938 to replace the legendary African American performer Josephine Baker as the star attraction at the Folies Bergère, and the famous cabaret music hall commissioned Man Ray to help introduce her to French audiences through his portrait photographs.

Many of the subjects portrayed in Man Ray’s photographs were born in Spanish-speaking countries such as Argentina, El Salvador, Peru and Spain, including famous modern artists like Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso, as well as the flamenco dancer Prou del Pilar and the pianist Ricardo Viñes. As a state art museum that has free general admission and is open 365 days a year, VMFA is committed to representing the cultural and linguistic diversity of our community. According to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 7 percent of Virginia’s 8.5 million residents speak Spanish at home. This data has informed the museum’s decision to incorporate dual-language labels throughout the Man Ray: The Paris Years exhibition, as well as the audio tour and gallery guide. Recognising that English is not the native language of everyone who visits the exhibition, VMFA is offering content in both Spanish and English to create a more accessible, inclusive and welcoming experience for all of our visitors.

Informed by extensive archival research, this exhibition and accompanying catalogue offers a more complete account of Man Ray’s Paris years by focusing not just on his achievement as a photographer and his superb gifts as a portraitist, but also on the friendships and exchange of ideas that took place between the artist and his subjects in Paris between the two world wars.

Press release from VMFA

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Nusch Éluard and Sonia Mossé' 1937

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Nusch Éluard and Sonia Mossé
1937
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

Mossé was a surrealist artist and performer in a lesbian cabaret.

 

Ray’s double portraits are among his most spellbinding. Two feature Nusch Éluard, the actress, acrobat and hypnotist’s assistant who married the surrealist poet Paul Éluard. One shows Nusch with the openly bisexual actress, singer, surrealist and model Sonia Mossé. Taken in 1937, the photograph trembles with the intimacy and uncanniness of the culminating scenes in Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona,” where the face of Bibi Andersson begins to merge with that of Liv Ullmann. …

To try to square Man Ray’s magical, tender double portrait with Mossé’s subsequent life, as sketched in by Taylor in the catalogue, is to feel the 20th century – stretched to breaking point by the contrary forces of personal liberation and vicious repression – suddenly snap, like the shutter of a camera taking a photograph no one can bear to look at.

Mossé, writes Taylor, was romantically involved with the French dramatist Antonin Artaud. Best known for conceptualising the Theater of Cruelty movement, Artaud had tried to break off their relationship in 1939 “via handwritten malediction” (a letter in which he wrote curses – e.g., “You will live dead” – in an envelope containing drawings and burned holes).

But Mossé would never receive it. War had broken out. And on Feb. 11, 1943, Mossé and her stepsister Esther were denounced as Jews to the Gestapo. They were taken to the Drancy internment camp in a northeastern suburb of Paris and then to the Sobibór extermination camp in occupied Poland, where Mossé was murdered in a gas chamber.

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Igor Stravinsky' 1925

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Igor Stravinsky
1925
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Picasso in His Studio on the rue de La Boëtie, Paris' 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Picasso in His Studio on the rue de La Boëtie, Paris
1922
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

The American Surrealist Man Ray made a number of portraits of Picasso over the years, beginning with this photograph that appeared in the July 1922 issue of Vanity Fair. It was taken on the second floor of Picasso’s apartment at 23 rue de La Boëtie in Paris, where he established a studio in November 1918 and completed many of the Cubist paintings that form the background of this portrait. Man Ray’s portrait brilliantly captures both sides of Picasso’s personality at this time, since the proud and successful artist is also shown to be emotionally distant and seemingly uncomfortable with his newfound wealth and fame.

Text from the Philadelphia Museum of Art website

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Constantin Brancusi' 1925

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Constantin Brancusi
1925
Gelatin silver print
9 1/4 x 10 1/4″ (23.5 x 26cm)
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Ruby Richards with Feathers' 1938

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Ruby Richards with Feathers (installation view)
1938
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Ruby Richards (aka The Black Pearl) was a singer and dancer born in Saint Christopher Island (Saint Kitts) in the West Indies.

In 1938 the dancer and singer moved to Paris to replace Josephine Baker as the star attraction at the Folies Bergère. The famous cabaret music hall commissioned Man Ray to help introduce Richards to French audiences through his innovative portrait photographs.

 

 

Louis Jordan Soundie: Fuzzy Wuzzy

Featuring Louis Jordan and His Tympany Band with dancer Ruby Richards (recorded on New Year’s Eve 1942).

 

Man Ray. 'Ruby Richards' 1938

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Ruby Richards (installation view)
1938
Gelatin silver print

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Ruby Richards with Diamonds' c. 1938

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Ruby Richards with Diamonds
c. 1938
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Michael and Jacky Ferro, Miami
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021)

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Self-Portrait With Adrienne Fidelin' 1937

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Self-Portrait With Adrienne Fidelin
1937
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society, New York/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

He called her his “little black sun.” Born in Guadeloupe, Adrienne Fidelin was the American artist’s partner in Paris before World War II tore them apart. She appears in almost 400 of the renowned artist’s photographs, and in 1937 became the first Black model to be featured in a leading U.S. fashion magazine. However, she was pushed to the sidelines of history. …

Man Ray himself only mentions Fidelin fleetingly in his autobiography. This marginalisation continues today, despite current efforts to recognise the stories of people of colour throughout history…

Adrienne Fidelin was born on March 4, 1915, in Pointe-à-Pitre. At the age of 13, she lost her mother in a hurricane that devastated Guadeloupe, and her father died a few years later. The orphaned teenager joined other members of her family living in Paris in the early 1930s. At the time, the French capital was under the thrall of the Colonial Exposition and obsessed with France’s far-flung colonies. At the Bal Blomet, a cabaret in the 15th arrondissement, the West Indian diaspora and the artistic avant-garde partied to the sounds of Creole biguine music, and Fidelin joined a Guadeloupean dance company.

This is most likely where she and Man Ray first set eyes on each other. She was 19, he was 44. In a diary entry dated December 29, 1934, the artist simply wrote “Ady.” Wendy Grossman discovered this valuable evidence of their first meeting in the Man Ray archives at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The following year, he wrote down her number (“Odéon 79-95”) and photographed her wearing a simple white tank top. The artist and the dancer were inseparable. On May 13, 1937, Man Ray combined their names in a tender Surrealist pairing, writing “Manady” and “Adyman” in his diary. …

On September 15, 1937, a full-page portrait photo of Fidelin taken by Man Ray was published in the U.S. magazine Harper’s Bazaar – a first in segregated America. However, captured “wearing a tiger-tooth necklace, an ivory arm bracelet, and a Belgian Congo headdress, and adopting a seductive pose, Fidelin was presumed to represent the sensual African ‘native’ identified in the article’s title,” writes Wendy Grossman. “The article shows how the Surrealist movement exoticised ‘the other.'”

Man Ray found a partner in Fidelin, but their relationship was asymmetrical. “She stops me from sinking into pessimism,” he wrote. “She does everything: shining my shoes, making me breakfast, and painting the backdrops on my large canvases.” Fidelin also danced in the “negro clubs” on the Champs-Elysées and worked with photographers and directors looking for “exotic girls.” …

The couple was torn apart when the Wehrmacht entered Paris in June 1940. After trying – and failing – to flee to the Côte d’Azur together, Man Ray returned to the United States alone. The lovers continued writing each other for a few months, but the war severely impacted the postal service and Man Ray soon fell in love with another dancer in Hollywood. Fidelin remained in Paris, married another man in 1957, and died in a retirement home a few miles outside Albi in Southern France [February 5, 2004].

Clément Thiery. “Adrienne Fidelin, Man Ray’s Forgotten Muse,” on the Fance-Amérique website February 2, 2022 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Adrienne Fidelin with washboard' 1937

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Adrienne Fidelin with washboard
1937
Gelatin silver print
29.8 x 23cm
Collection Musée Picasso
© Man Ray 2015 Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

As far as I know this photograph is NOT in the exhibition

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'James Joyce' 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
James Joyce
1922
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'James Joyce' (portrait for "Ulysses") 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
James Joyce (portrait for “Ulysses”)
1922
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

If, in the early 1920s, you happened to walk into Shakespeare and Company, the legendary bookstore and lending library established in Paris after World War I by the American expatriate Sylvia Beach, you would have noticed that the walls were covered with photographic portraits by Man Ray and Berenice Abbott.

“To be ‘done’ by Man Ray and Berenice Abbott meant that you rated as somebody,” wrote Beach. The habitues of Shakespeare and Company famously included such somebodies as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In 1922, Beach commissioned Ray (1890-1976) to make a publicity photograph of James Joyce, the Irish novelist whose book “Ulysses” she was about to publish (to her everlasting glory). That same year, Ray photographed Marcel Proust on his deathbed (below).

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Marcel Proust on His Deathbed' 1922

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Marcel Proust on His Deathbed
1922
Gelatin silver print
Mark Kelman, New York
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

“It comes so soon, the moment when there is nothing left to wait for.” ~ Marcel Proust

 

Ravaged by bronchitis and pneumonia, Marcel Proust spent the last night of his life dictating manuscript changes for a section of his famous novel Remembrance of Things Past.

Man Ray did not know Proust, but he had become such an important photographer that mutual friends dispatched him to the celebrated French author’s bedside to make a final portrait two days after his death. The side view associates Man Ray’s photograph with a tradition of postmortem photography dating back to the inception of the medium.

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

At the urging of his friend Jean Cocteau, Man Ray rushed to photograph the author of Remembrance of Things Past on his deathbed. In the October / November issue of Les Nouvelles Littéraires, Cocteau wrote:

Those who have seen this profile of calm, of order, of plenitude, will never forget the spectacle of an unbelievable recording device come to a stop, becoming an art object: a masterpiece of repose next to a heap of notebooks where our friend’s genius continues to live on like the wristwatch of a dead soldier.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Elsie Houston' 1933

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Elsie Houston
1933
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

“Houston sang Brazilian folk songs by candlelight in Paris. She moved to New York in 1939, where she performed as a possessed woman muttering “voodoo” incantations and playing the drums. She died in her home in 1943, an empty vial of sleeping pills by her bedside. In Ray’s photograph, her smile is soft. Her head tilts in line with her elongated hand. That hand is adorned with a piece of jewellery in the shape of a spotted disc, which rhymes with her hoop earring and the arches of her eyebrows. The cool, clean contrasts of her white turban and dark clothes make the portrait one of Ray’s finest.”

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Elsie Houston (Brazilian, 1902-1943)

Elsie Houston (22 April 1902 – 20 February 1943) was a Brazilian singer.

Houston figured in the Brazilian literary/art/music scene during a critical time in its history. It was an era of tremendous creative energy. In addition to Mário de Andrade and Pagu, Houston knew others famous members of this artists movement, including the composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, the painters Flavio de Carvalho, Anita Malfatti and Tarsila do Amaral, and the leader of Brazilian modernism, Oswald de Andrade.

Houston moved to Germany and studied with Lilli Lehmann a renowned voice teacher. She then studied with another famed soprano, Ninon Vallin, first in Argentina and then in Paris. Houston’s relationship with Heitor Villa Lobos began in her teens. Houston was definitely a soloist at Villa Lobos’s 1927 Paris concerts. In 1928 she married Benjamin Péret, French surrealist poet, with whom she lived in Brazil from 1929 to 1931. Their son, Geyser, was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1931.

By the late 1930s, Houston had moved to New York City. She was a brilliant singer, particularly skilled in the interpretation of Brazilian songs. The New York Times during this era praised for her performances. She was also an active supporter of young Latin American composers, performing early pieces by composers such as Jayme Ovalle and Camargo Guarnieri.

She died in 1943. Her death was listed as an apparent suicide.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

Ravel – Sur l’herbe – Elsie Houston (1930s)

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Lee Miller' 1929

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Lee Miller
1929
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

Ray learned from the history of painting as much as from other photographers. He borrowed from Rembrandt’s tenebrism (his dramatic use of engulfing shadow), the slanting light and perspectival structure in Vermeer’s interiors, and the directness of Hans Holbein (strong light on the face, minimal backgrounds). But of course, he was in league with the surrealists and, in even his most classical-seeming portraits, revealed a predilection for unexpected juxtapositions, visual rhymes and piercing expressions that can transport you instantaneously to the lip of a volcanic unconscious.

Ray’s 1929 portrait of Lee Miller is a good example – surely one of the most mesmerising photographic portraits ever taken. What is the source of its uncanny power? It’s not just that Miller – herself a great photographer who for several years was Ray’s lover – is so beautiful; or that her direct gaze is simultaneously so trusting and challenging; or even that her unblemished skin and the symmetry of the whole composition suggest something impossibly pristine and inviolate. It’s because the image is slightly out of focus. The effect of the blur is to slow one’s response, as smoke rings slow the mind – and to trigger a dream state.

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Emak Bakia (Leave Me Alone)
1926

 

 

But you may be less familiar with some of Ray’s other subjects, including Germaine Tailleferre, the female composer who changed her name from Taillefesse, Taylor writes, “partly to spite her father, who refused to support her musical studies, but also because she disliked the connotations of the name Taillefesse, which translates as buttock in English”; Janet Scudder, an American sculptor, whose partner was the children’s author and suffragist Marion Cothren; and Barbette (below), the high-wire performer who presented as a graceful woman, but at the end of her act removed her wig and revealed herself as a man.

Personae like these – and Ray’s always inventive approach to their portraits – make this show more than just a roll call of famous names. They make it revelatory. The show is further enhanced by the inclusion of Ray’s wonderful 1926 film, “Emak-Bakia” (he called it a “cinépoème”), and a portfolio of semiabstract photographs he made for a Paris Electricity Co. marketing campaign. Both are remarkable.

Sebastian Smee. “Glamour, gossip, sex, scandal: Man Ray’s portraits captured Paris between the wars,” on The Washington Post website November 9, 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Barbette' 1926

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Barbette
1926
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society

 

 

Vander Clyde Broadway (American, 1899-1973)

Vander Clyde Broadway (December 19, 1899 – August 5, 1973), stage name Barbette, was an American female impersonator, high-wire performer, and trapeze artist born in Texas. Barbette attained great popularity throughout the United States but his greatest fame came in Europe and especially Paris, in the 1920s and 1930s.

Barbette began performing as an aerialist at around the age of 14 as one-half of a circus act called The Alfaretta Sisters. After a few years of circus work, Barbette went solo and adopted his exotic-sounding pseudonym. He performed in full drag, revealing himself as male only at the end of his act.

Following a career-ending illness or injury (the sources disagree on the cause), which left him in constant pain, Barbette returned to Texas but continued to work as a consultant for motion pictures as well as training and choreographing aerial acts for a number of circuses. After years of dealing with chronic pain, Barbette committed suicide on August 5, 1973. Both in life and following his death, Barbette served as an inspiration to a number of artists, including Jean Cocteau and Man Ray. …

“Barbette,” writes Cocteau,

“transforms effortlessly back and forth between man and woman. His female glamour and elegance Cocteau likens to a cloud of dust thrown into the eyes of the audience, blinding it to the masculinity of the movements he needs to perform his acrobatics. That blindness is so complete that at the end of his act, Barbette does not simply remove his wig but instead plays the part of a man. He rolls his shoulders, stretches his hands, swells his muscles… And after the fifteenth or so curtain call, he gives a mischievous wink, shifts from foot to foot, mimes a bit of an apology, and does a shuffling little street urchin dance – all of it to erase the fabulous, dying-swan impression left by the act.”

Cocteau calls upon his fellow artists to incorporate deliberately this effect that he believes for Barbette is instinctive.

Cocteau commissioned a series of photographs of Barbette by the Surrealist artist Man Ray, which captured not only aspects of Barbette’s performance but also his process of transformation into his female persona.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Ernest Hemingway' 1928

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Ernest Hemingway
1928
Gelatin silver print
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Aldous Huxley' 1934

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Aldous Huxley
1934
Gelatin silver print
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

This photograph was taken two years after the publication of Huxley’s novel Brave New World, a nightmarish vision of the future.

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'La Ville' (The City) 1931

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
La Ville (The City)
1931
From the portfolio Èlectricité
Photogravure, printed 1931
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

In 1931, Man Ray was commissioned by the Compagnie Parisienne de Distribution d’Electricite (CPDE) to produce a series of pictures promoting the private consumption of electricity. The resulting portfolio, Électricité (Electricity), comprises rayographs reproduced as photogravures. Le Monde (The World), a picture of the moon above an electrical cord, suggests that even celestial bodies rely on the CPDE for their illumination; the photogravure Électricité equates the electric charge of the electron with the erotic beauty of a nude female figure; and Le Souffle (Breeze) combines spinning fan blades with the weblike stimuli of electrical current.

Gallery label from The Shaping of New Visions: Photography, Film, Photobook, April 16, 2012 – April 29, 2013 on the MoMA website [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray. 'Électricité' 1931

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Électricité
1931
From the portfolio Èlectricité
Photogravure, printed 1931
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

Man Ray’s innovations are not excluded. A whole section of the exhibition is devoted to his light-bending portfolio Électricité (1931), a commercial project commissioned by the Paris Electric Company to promote the use of electrically powered household appliances. Comprised of ten “Rayographs” (another name for photograms), the portfolio pulses with kinetic energy. Fans spin with an otherworldly force, a fowl is perfectly cooked as by magic rays, and the Eiffel Tower swims in hi-wattage advertisements.

Daniel Cassady. “‘Paris’s glowing milieu spills onto every corner’: Virginia show theatrically tells the story of Man Ray’s fruitful time in the City of Lights,” on The Art Newspaper website 11 November 2021 [Online] Cited 03/02/2022

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Le Souffle' (Breeze) 1931

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Le Souffle (Breeze)
1931
From the portfolio Èlectricité
Photogravure, printed 1931
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Le Monde' (The World) 1931

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Le Monde (The World)
1931
From the portfolio Èlectricité
Photogravure, printed 1931
© Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2021

 

 

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30
Jan
22

Exhibition: ‘Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective’ at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Exhibition dates: 18th November, 2021 – 6th February, 2022

 

Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective

 

 

I’m not going to say a lot about the work of the Imogen Cunningham because the quality and breadth of the work speaks for itself. If you are attuned you can feel the strength of her images and imbibe of her sensitivity to subject matter, a sense of actual presence in light and form. For example, the portrait of Gertrude Stein, Writer (1934, below) is a masterpiece of light and form and of … perspicacity and intensity.

“An early feminist and inspiration to future generations, Cunningham engaged intensely with pictorialism and modernism, along with portraiture, landscape photography, the nude, still life and street photography… Under appreciated during her life, Cunningham was an inventive, inspired and prolific photographer who tirelessly explored her chosen medium until her death at the age of 93.”1

“Observing that her “taste lay somewhere between reality and dreamland,” Cunningham knew herself and her style well. The reality is the clarity of the images, and the dreamland could be seen in her abstract perspective.”2

.
I will tell an story though.

“[Ansel] Adams collaborated with Hills Brothers Coffee to have one of his images on the front of the can, which came out in 1968 [see below]. The idea was that the can would be a ‘keepsake’, for it had an original image by Ansel Adams of Yosemite during the winter [Winter Morning, Yosemite Valley, California c. 1940]. Cunningham summed up her disapproval when she sent the can to Ansel potted with a marijuana plant! Although hurtfully honest, Imogen was a tender, emotional woman. When Dorothea Lange’s marriage to Maynard Dixon had come to its end, Imogen burst into tears upon hearing the news.”3

.
Strength and tenderness. An independent spirit.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

  1. Anonymous. “Sheets ahead: the pioneering photography of Imogen Cunningham – in pictures,” on The Guardian website Wednesday 11 November 2020 [Online] Cited 27/01/2022
  2. Anonymous. “Imogen Cunningham,” on the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum website Nd [Online] Cited 27/01/2022
  3. Ibid.,

.
Many thankx to the Seattle Art Museum for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Ansel Adams / Hills Brothers coffee can 1969

 

Hills Brothers coffee can, with a wraparound image of Adams’ Winter Morning, Yosemite Valley; this can with the rare original red and yellow “belly band” specifying the grind and date, and advertising a Kodak Instamatic II camera on special offer for only $4.75. Tin, 7 inches high and 6 1/4 in diameter (17.8 and 15.9 cm.), with the printed Hills Brothers and Adams credit and the date; with the original plastic top which reads “Head for the HILLS!” 1969

Anonymous text and image from the Swann Auction Galleries website February 26, 2016 [Online] Cited 27/01/2022

 

 

“These days, high modernism can sometimes look as distant as a faraway star, a place of heedless optimism and tranquil contemplation. For that very reason, though, the images can be tonic, lowering one’s blood pressure as they induce concentration of sight. Imogen Cunningham took up a camera at the dawn of the 20th century, when few women were working in the field, and made pictures for nearly seven decades. She took every sort of photo; portraits, street scenes and landscapes all figure brilliantly in her body of work. What she did best, though, was to convey the sensual impact of harmonious forms, finding these especially in nudes, both male and female, and in the vegetable kingdom. Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective, by Paul Martineau, displays her ecstatic studies of flowers – lilies, tuberoses, magnolias – seen in extreme close-up as if they were worlds in themselves, and juxtaposes them with languorous sprawled bodies that become dunes and arroyos. She can turn her eye with similar entrancement to ceramics, textiles, the organically flowing wire sculptures of Ruth Asawa, and even industrial structures. She has never been granted anywhere near the attention accorded her counterpart and contemporary Edward Weston, but revision is clearly in order.”

.
Luc Sante, The New York Times Book Review 12/1/2020

 

“‘Cunningham’s decision to become a photographer in the first decade of the 20th century was a daring career choice for a woman,’ says Timothy Potts, director of the J Paul Getty Museum. ‘The field was dominated by men, many of whom saw the complexity and physical demands of the photographic process as beyond the abilities of most women. Armed with intelligence and determination, Cunningham completed her college degree in three years, won a scholarship to study photographic chemistry in Dresden and opened her own portrait studio in Seattle in 1910′”

.
Text from “Sheets ahead: the pioneering photography of Imogen Cunningham – in pictures,” on the Guardian website Wed 11 Nov 2020 [Online] Cited 08/01/2022

 

“Cunningham had a peripatetic eye, and this combined with her innate curiosity and forward-thinking attitudes about gender, race and sexuality resulted in an unusually diverse body of work.”

.
Curator Paul Martineau in the book’s foreword

 

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective | Nov 18 – Feb 6 | Seattle Art Museum

Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective showcases the endless innovation and profound influence of this remarkable photographer who pushed the boundaries for both women and photography within fine art. Nearly 200 of Cunningham’s insightful portraits, elegant flower and plant studies, poignant street pictures, and groundbreaking nudes present a singular vision developed over seven decades of work. The first major retrospective in the United States of Imogen Cunningham’s work in 35 years, the exhibition examines the artist’s Seattle upbringing and includes works by female artists such as Ruth Asawa and Martha Graham who Cunningham championed, as well as works by Group f/64 which she helped found with Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and others. Cunningham’s spark of creative possibility asserted photography as a distinct and valuable art form in the 20th century.

This exhibition is organised by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective' at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

 

Installation view of the exhibition Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) showing at left, Magnolia Bud (1929); at second left, Amaryllis (1933); at third left, Agave Design 2 (1920s); and at right, Aloe (1925)
Photo: Natali Wiseman

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective' at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

 

Installation view of the exhibition Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) showing No. 7: Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore (c. 1940); 8: Under the Queensboro Bridge, 1934; 9: Sunbonnet Lady, Fillmore Street, San Francisco (c. 1950s); 10: Self-portrait in Copenhagen, 1961; 11: Leni in Chartres, 1960; 14: Reeds, 1952; 15: Me Too, 1955
Photo: Natali Wiseman

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Self-Portrait with Elgin Marbles, London' 1910

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Self-Portrait with Elgin Marbles, London
1910
Platinum print
6 9/16 × 4 7/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

An early feminist and inspiration to future generations, Cunningham engaged intensely with Pictorialism and Modernism, along with portraiture, landscape photography, the nude, still life and street photography.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Self-Portrait' 1910

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Self-Portrait
1910
Platinum print
Image: 4 13/16 × 3 1/8 in.
Frame: 20 1/2 x 15 1/2 x 7/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'The Dream (Nei-san-Koburi)' about 1910

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
The Dream (Nei-san-Koburi)
about 1910
Platinum print
8 15/16 × 6 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

“Her first paying photo gig was making lantern slides of microscopic plant details for the university’s botany department. Cunningham also made some of her first creative work while at UW, including a nude self-portrait in the grass on the UW campus that was way ahead of its time (an early hint of the boundary-pushing career that would follow). After interning with and later working for Northwest photographer Edward S. Curtis, in 1910 she established her own studio in a small bungalow on what is now First Hill.”

Margo Vansynghel. “How Seattle’s Imogen Cunningham changed photography forever,” on the Crosscut website November 16, 2021 [Online] Cited 08/01/2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Wood Beyond the World I' 1910

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Wood Beyond the World I
1910
Platinum print
Image: 9 7/16 × 6 13/16 in.
Frame: 23 1/4 x 17 1/4 x 7/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'In the Wood (Voice of the Wood)' 1910

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
In the Wood (Voice of the Wood)
1910
Platinum print
Image: 7 13/16 × 7 1/2 in.
Frame: 21 1/4 x 17 1/4 x 7/8 in.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Evening on the Duwamish River' About 1911

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Evening on the Duwamish River
About 1911
Platinum print
Image: 5 13/16 × 9 1/2 in.
Mount: 9 5/16 × 12 5/8 in.
Frame: 15 1/2 x 20 1/2 x 7/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Cunningham took this photo of an “Evening on the Duwamish River,” around 1911, after she established her photo studio on Seattle’s First Hill. (The Imogen Cunningham Trust)

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: The Dream c. 1910

In this soft-focused black and white photograph, a woman is visible from the waist-up. She sits in three-quarter profile and wears a loose, white robe which emphasises her pale skin. This woman, who glows in contrast to the dark, hazy background which surrounds her, is miniaturist painter Clare Shepard.

Imogen Cunningham photographed her friend, Shepard, at the peak of the Pictorialist movement. This movement saw photographers approach cameras as a tool – similar to a paintbrush – that made an artistic statement. Rather than capturing the real, Pictorialism emphasised the beauty of a subject and an image’s composition.

In this audio recording produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Chris Johnson, chair of the photography department at the California College of the Arts, considers the Pictorialist approach Cunningham took in creating The Dream (Nei-san-Koburi) and the romantic feelings it relays.

 

Transcript

Chris Johnson: It’s a kind of a classic, romantic, Pictorialist image of a young beautiful woman.

Narrator: Chris Johnson, chair of the photography department at the California College of the Arts.

Chris Johnson: You can see that Imogen is very sensitive to the falling of light and shadow over this young woman.

Narrator: The atmosphere around her, seems to glow. Diffused light falls on her headscarf and the folds of her painter’s smock. Her eyes are half closed, as if in a trance. The close framing of the portrait keeps the background abstract. The subject is Clare Shepard, a friend and miniaturist painter.

Chris Johnson: Imogen, in her heart of hearts, was really a romantic and a romantic takes her feelings very seriously so her feelings as she was projecting them on to this young woman are pretty clear.

Narrator: The otherworldly portrait hints at Shepard’s rumoured abilities as a clairvoyant. The image exemplifies Pictorialism, an approach that prioritised beauty and expressiveness, composition and atmospheric effects. The movement rejected the realistic, documentary nature of photography and instead looked to painters as artistic influences.

Chris Johnson: One of the ideas behind the Pictorialists was that you would use the soft-focus technique as a trope to indicate dreamy, romantic, ethereal, spiritual qualities. She’s catching this moment when Claire is lost within thought and it intends to try to draw us into the mood space that she’s occupying using pictorialist soft-focus as a formal strategy.

Narrator: When Cunningham took this portrait around 1910, Pictorialism was at its peak. Cunningham had recently opened her own studio in Seattle after studying photographic chemistry in Germany. The photograph marked a specific, early period in her career.

Chris Johnson: All of her photography subsequent to this phase is in marked contrast to the visual effects of this image.

~ Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator, “Imogen Cunningham: The Dream,” on the SAMBlog website December 21, 2021 [Online] Cited 06/01/2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'On Mount Rainier' 1915

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
On Mount Rainier
1915
Platinum print
7 1/4 × 9 3/16 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

With a series of photos of her husband naked “On Mount Rainier,” Imogen Cunningham caused quite the stir in 1915. It was unusual for a woman to be photographing male nudes. (The Imogen Cunningham Trust)

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'On the Mountain' 1915

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
On the Mountain
1915
Platinum print
Image: 9 × 7 1/4 in.
Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Anna R. and Frank M. Hall Charitable Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Agave Design 1' 1920s

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Agave Design 1
1920s
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 1/2 × 10 1/2 in.
Mat: 20 × 18 in.
Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Two Callas' 1925-1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Two Callas
1925-1929
Gelatin silver print
11 13/16 × 8 7/8 in.
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection, Gift of Jean Levy and the Estate of Julien Levy
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Magnolia Blossom' Negative 1925; print 1930

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Magnolia Blossom
Negative 1925; print 1930
Gelatin silver print
9 5/16 × 11 5/8 in.
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Museum purchase, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: Magnolia Blossom 1925

For nearly a decade of her 70-year career, Imogen Cunningham focused on capturing the beauty of botanicals. Having studied chemistry and worked in the botany department at the University of Washington, she wrote her thesis in 1907 on the chemical process of photography while employing a variety of plants as her subjects.

Magnolia Blossom is perhaps Cunningham’s most well-known botanical image. The close-cropped photograph of the flower reveals the cone of stamens and pistils hiding between the petals. Taken as a whole, the image represents a transfixing study of light and shadows within the history of black and white photography.

In this audio recording produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Meg Partridge, the granddaughter of Imogen Cunningham, discusses the significance of this photograph within Cunningham’s larger body of work and provides insight on the photographer’s fascination with botanicals.

 

Transcript

Narrator: This close-cropped image of a magnolia flower fills the entire frame. The petals have completely opened revealing the cone of stamens and curlicue carpels.

Meg Partridge: It’s really a beautifully sharp, focused, large-format image that is a simple subject, but it’s very powerful.

Narrator: For roughly a decade, Cunningham focused her attention on botanical studies. This is perhaps her most well-known example. She had an extensive knowledge of plants – as a chemistry major in college, she worked in the botany department, making slides for lectures and research.

Meg Partridge: She knew the botanical names of all of the plants that she had photographed and all the plants that she gardened with. She spent a good bit of time in the garden. So I think it was more about the relationship she had with her subject – be it a person or a plant – that we really see and respond to.

Narrator: There was a practical aspect to these botanical works as well. Cunningham once explained: “The reason I really turned to plants was because I couldn’t get out of my own backyard when my children were small. I photographed the plants in my garden and steered my children around at the same time.”

Meg Partridge: And she would do it in moments where she had children underfoot, but also a moment to focus. She always used natural light and she often took photographs either inside with a simple backdrop or she even took simple backdrops, a white board or a black cloth, out into the garden to photograph.

Narrator: Cunningham’s full-frame botanicals such as this one were groundbreaking in early modernist photography.

~ Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator, “Imogen Cunningham: Magnolia Blossom,” on the SAMBlog website December 7, 2021 [Online] Cited 06/01/2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Magnolia Bud' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Magnolia Bud
1929
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 1/4 × 7 1/16 in.
Mount: 19 7/8 × 14 15/16 in.
George Eastman Museum, purchase

 

 

“The photos from this period, often tightly framed to the point of almost cropped, cast off much of Cunningham’s earlier romantic tendencies in favor of a modernist sharpness and chiaroscuro that, while still moody, nears abstraction. The leaves of rubber plants and flax plants become spears, and in close-up, paper-skinned magnolia blossoms almost look like thighs.”

Margo Vansynghel. “How Seattle’s Imogen Cunningham changed photography forever,” on the Crosscut website November 16, 2021 [Online] Cited 08/01/2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Rubber Plant' before 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Rubber Plant
before 1929
Gelatin silver print
13 3/8 x 10 1/4 in. (34 x 26cm)
Seattle Art Museum, Gift of John H. Hauberg

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Aloe' 1925

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Aloe
1925
Gelatin silver print
8 13/16 × 6 1/2 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© The 2021 Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

Cunningham started photographing plants upon moving to the Bay Area from Seattle. “The reason I really turned to plants was because I couldn’t get out of my own backyard when my children were small,” Cunningham later said. (The Imogen Cunningham Trust)

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Banana Plant' 1925-1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Banana Plant
1925-1929
Gelatin silver print
Image: 11 5/8 × 8 3/4 in.
Sheet: 14 × 10 15/16 in.
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection, Gift of Jean Levy and the Estate of Julien Levy

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Billbergia' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Billbergia
1929
Gelatin silver print
Image: 12 1/8 × 8 1/16 in.
Sheet: 13 7/8 × 10 15/16 in.
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection, Gift of Jean Levy and the Estate of Julien Levy

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Tuberose' 1920s

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Tuberose
1920s
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/8 × 9 3/8 in.
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Dorothy Levitt Beskind Gift, 1973

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Hen and Chickens' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Hen and Chickens
1929
Gelatin silver print
9 15/16 × 9 11/16 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) presents Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective (November 18, 2021 – February 6, 2022), the photographer’s first major retrospective in the United States in more than 35 years. Organised by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, the exhibition is a visual celebration of Cunningham’s immense contribution to the history of 20th-century photography. It features nearly 200 works from her seventy-year career, including portraits of artists, musicians and Hollywood stars; elegant flower and plant studies; poignant street pictures; and groundbreaking nudes.

“We are thrilled to open this important retrospective here in Seattle, Cunningham’s first home as an artist,” says Amada Cruz, SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO. “She once said that she ‘photographs anything the light touches’ – this is an extraordinary opportunity for our visitors to bask in the glow of her dynamic and expansive body of work and be inspired.”

“Imogen Cunningham was under appreciated for most of her career, only finding recognition in her last years – an unfortunately common tale for many women artists,” says Carrie Dedon, SAM’s Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. “Her photographs reveal an endlessly curious, innovative, and determined mind that places her as one of the most important photographers of the last century.”

 

Beginnings in Seattle

Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) had deep connections to the Pacific Northwest; born in Portland, she grew up in Port Angeles and Seattle. The precocious child of a free-thinking father, Cunningham decided to become a photographer around 1901, while still in high school. Her father famously asked, “Why do you want to become a dirty photographer?” Yet he built her a darkroom in a woodshed, including the necessary and messy chemical supplies. Her first works were in the soft-focus, Pictorialist style.

Cunningham completed a chemistry degree at the University of Washington in 1907. During these years, she also participated in the artistic scene, becoming the youngest charter member – and only photographer – of the Seattle Fine Arts Society in 1908. She also apprenticed and then worked from 1907-1909 at the Seattle studio of well-known photographer Edward S. Curtis. After a year-long fellowship in Dresden, Germany, Cunningham returned to Seattle in 1910 and opened what is considered the first studio for artistic photography in Seattle. She lived and worked in this ivy-covered building located at 1117 Terry Avenue, making portraits of local figures as well as her own works in the then-popular Pictorialist mode, including some early daring nudes.

Cunningham married a Seattle artist, Roi Partridge, in 1915, and eventually had three sons with him, including twin boys. With her husband on the road, Cunningham struggled to run her studio and household, and eventually set out to join Partridge in San Francisco in 1917.

 

A Modernist Pioneer

The next decade of Cunningham’s life saw her balancing her roles as an artist, mother, and mentor to the students of Mills College in Oakland, where her husband taught. Amid the very real constraints of her life in California, Cunningham created photographs that are regarded today as historically radical and groundbreaking, including modernist botanicals and portraits.

Bound to the home while caring for her infant boys, Cunningham planted a garden in 1921 to create subjects for her camera. In these works, including perhaps her more celebrated botanical, Magnolia Blossom (1925), she isolates the plant forms, precisely revealing their essential elements in close-up compositions. Their sensuality is heightened by Cunningham’s choice of warm-toned matte-surface papers for printing. These works were included in a momentous avant-garde exhibition in 1925 in Stuttgart, Germany, which brought her international attention.

Her portrait subjects in these years featured people from her artistic community such as dancers Jose Limon and Hanya Holm, musicians from the Cornish College of the Arts, fencer Helene Mayer, and artists Frida Kahlo and Morris Graves. She also made portraits of Hollywood luminaries for Vanity Fair, including Cary Grant, Joan Blondell, and Spencer Tracy.

 

Artist and collaborator

SAM’s iteration of the exhibition highlights Cunningham’s collaborations with artists of many mediums, particularly dancer Martha Graham and sculptor Ruth Asawa. In a section of artist portraits is one of Graham, taken during a 1931 session that resulted in dramatic close-ups of the dancer’s face and body; also in this section is a video of the dancer in her iconic solo Lamentation (1930). Cunningham was introduced to Asawa in 1950, and the two, though 43 years apart in age, established a lasting friendship. Cunningham regularly photographed Asawa and her looped wire sculptures and wrote on her behalf for a Guggenheim Foundation grant. The exhibition features seven Asawa sculptures alongside Cunningham’s five portraits of the artist and her work.

Another section of the exhibition features examples from Group f/64, a Bay Area association of photographers begun in 1932 that championed a direct and objective approach. In addition to Cunningham, the group included Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Sonya Noskowiak, and more. Also on view are photographs by Gertrude Kasebier, Dorothea Lange, Listette Model, and more; they were all sources of inspiration for or collaborators with Cunningham.

 

The Light Within

The exhibition also explores the last 42 years of Cunningham’s life, as the artist continued to face challenges and late-in-life triumphs in her career. It was only in the final twelve years of her life that she finally began to receive attention, with major solo shows in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco; a 1964 Aperture monograph spearheaded by her champion and fellow photographer, Minor White; and a 1970 Guggenheim Foundation grant that enabled her to print a cache of her early glass plate negatives.

During these years, she continued to innovate, gravitating toward street photography and creating cleverly composed examples of the genre. She also taught and mentored young artists, and she became involved in civic issues in San Francisco, as well as the civil rights and the anti-war movements. At the age of 92, she embarked on a final series focusing on ageing, traveling with an assistant to document subjects. In 1976, just months before her death, she appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, charming the host and the audience. On view in this final gallery is Portrait of Imogen (1988), a short documentary film directed by Meg Partridge.

Press release from SAM

 

 

Portrait of Imogen – Part 1

 

 

Portrait of Imogen – Part 2

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Shredded Wheat Tower' 1928

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Shredded Wheat Tower
1928
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 7/8 × 6 9/16 in.
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987

 

 

Radiating outward, the beams of this water tower unfold as if in bloom. Imogen Cunningham is best known for her floral studies, which monumentalise the intricate architecture of petals and leaves. Here, she turns her signature subject on its head, finding organic elegance in an industrial view. Cunningham exhibited this photograph at the landmark 1929 Film und Foto exhibition in Stuttgart, and its inverted viewpoint reflects the influence of the show’s avant-garde organisers. Pioneering a new West Coast modernism, Cunningham adapted European approaches to the California skyline, here depicting a Shredded Wheat factory near her home in Oakland.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Dancer, Mills College' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Dancer, Mills College
1929
Gelatin silver print
8 9/16 × 7 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Martha Graham, Dancer' 1931

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Martha Graham, Dancer
1931
Gelatin silver print
7 5/16 × 9 15/16 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

Martha Graham (May 11, 1894 – April 1, 1991) was an American modern dancer and choreographer. Her style, the Graham technique, reshaped American dance and is still taught worldwide.

Graham danced and taught for over seventy years. She was the first dancer to perform at the White House, travel abroad as a cultural ambassador, and receive the highest civilian award of the US: the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction. In her lifetime she received honours ranging from the Key to the City of Paris to Japan’s Imperial Order of the Precious Crown. She said, in the 1994 documentary The Dancer Revealed: “I have spent all my life with dance and being a dancer. It’s permitting life to use you in a very intense way. Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable.” Founded in 1926 (the same year as Graham’s professional dance company), the Martha Graham School is the oldest school of dance in the United States. First located in a small studio within Carnegie Hall the school currently has two different studios in New York City.

Text and more information on the Wikipedia website

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Self-Portrait with Korona View' 1933

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Self-Portrait with Korona View
1933
Gelatin silver print
4 × 3 5/16 in.
Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Under the Queensboro Bridge' 1934

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Under the Queensboro Bridge
1934
Gelatin silver print
Image: 6 1/8 × 7 5/8 in.
Frame: 15 1/4 x 20 1/4 x 3/4 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Leslie and Judith Schreyer and Gabri Schreyer-Hoffman in honour of Virginia Heckert

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Gertrude Stein, Writer' 1934

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Gertrude Stein, Writer
1934
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 9/16 × 6 11/16 in.
Frame: 22 5/8 x 16 5/8 x 1 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Cornish School Trio 2' 1935

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Cornish School Trio 2
1935
Gelatin silver print
9 × 7 1/2 in.
Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

About the exhibition

Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) had deep connections to the Pacific Northwest; born in Portland, she grew up in Port Angeles and Seattle. She completed a chemistry degree at the University of Washington in 1907 and in 1910 opened what is considered the first studio for artistic photography in Seattle, making portraits of local figures as well as her own works in the then-popular Pictorialist mode, including some early daring nudes.

Cunningham then moved to California, where she created photographs that are regarded today as historically radical and groundbreaking, including modernist botanicals and portraits. She began to earn international attention, and created portraits of people from her artistic community as well as celebrities including artist Frida Kahlo and actor Cary Grant.

SAM’s iteration of the exhibition highlights Cunningham’s collaborations with artists of many mediums, particularly dancer Martha Graham and sculptor Ruth Asawa. Another section of the exhibition features examples from the famous Group f/64, including Edward Weston and Ansel Adams.

The exhibition also explores the last 42 years of Cunningham’s life, as the artist continued to face challenges and late-in-life triumphs in her career. She created clever examples of street photography, taught and mentored young artists, and embarked on a final important series on ageing. Visitors can also watch Portrait of Imogen (1988), a short documentary film directed by Meg Partridge.

Text from SAM

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Mr. and Mrs. Ozenfant' 1935

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Mr. and Mrs. Ozenfant
1935
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 3/8 × 7 1/4 in.
Frame: 23 1/4 x 17 1/4 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'My Father at Ninety' 1936

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
My Father at Ninety
1936
Gelatin silver print
9 3/4 × 7 11/16 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: My Father at Ninety, 1936

Around 1901, Imogen Cunningham purchased her first camera. Aware of his daughter’s interest in photography, Cunningham’s father, Isaac Burns Cunningham, built her a darkroom in a woodshed on their property in Seattle. With her photography career in full bloom, Cunningham returned to the site of the original darkroom more than 30 years later to photograph her first and biggest supporter, her father.

Seated on a log in front of split wood, Cunningham intimately captures her ageing father. In this recording produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Meg Partridge, the granddaughter of Imogen Cunningham, reflects on Cunningham’s loving relationship with her father and reveals the supportive role he played throughout her career.

 

Transcript

Meg Partridge: In all the photographs Imogen took of her father, you can just see that relationship between the two. You experienced that relationship a bit when you look into the eyes of Isaac Burns in this photograph.

Narrator: Cunningham had a host of ways for getting her subjects to relax and reveal a bit of themselves. She’d chat them up, catch them off guard, or mesmerise them with her own fluid, busy movement, all in order to, as she once said, “gain an understanding at short notice and at close range.” But with this sitter, those techniques weren’t necessary. Her father’s guard was never up.

Meg Partridge: Imogen was very close to her father. I think there was a real similar interest in their curiosity and their intellect and their pursuit of information.

Narrator: Isaac Burns Cunningham was a freethinker. His formal education was interrupted by the Civil War, yet he was a voracious reader and a student of all religions. He supported his large family with a wood and coal supply business. In his daughter, named for the Shakespearian character he found most noble, he nurtured a love of nature and art, buying her first set of watercolours and arranging painting lessons on weekends and summers.

Meg Partridge: This is from a very low-income, frugal family that didn’t have a lot of extra money to spare. Isaac Burns also made her a darkroom in his woodshed. So that’s how Imogen got started actually processing her own work as a teenager in Seattle.

Narrator: Like her father, Imogen Cunningham lived into her nineties. When asked in an interview two months before her death at age ninety-three which one of her photographs was her favourite, she replied, “The one I’m going to take tomorrow.”

~ Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator, “Imogen Cunningham: My Father at Ninety,” on the SAMBlog website December 28, 2021 [Online] Cited 06/01/2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore' c. 1940

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
7 3/4 × 7 1/2 in.
Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, Gift of the Junior League of Oakland
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Hand Weaving with Hand, Henning Watterson, Weaver' 1946

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Hand Weaving with Hand, Henning Watterson, Weaver
1946
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 3/16 × 9 3/8 in.
Mount: 13 7/8 × 10 15/16 in.
Frame: 22 /8 x 18 5/8 x 1 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

 

 

“Whenever I photographed anybody who does anything with his hands,” Cunningham once said, “I usually come down and focus on them, and do the hand.”

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Morris Graves, Painter' 1950

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Morris Graves, Painter
1950
Gelatin silver print
15 × 16 in.
Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Anna R. and Frank M. Hall Charitable Trust
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

Morris Graves (August 28, 1910 – May 5, 2001) was an American painter. He was one of the earliest Modern artists from the Pacific Northwest to achieve national and international acclaim. His style, referred to by some reviewers as Mysticism, used the muted tones of the Northwest environment, Asian aesthetics and philosophy, and a personal iconography of birds, flowers, chalices, and other images to explore the nature of consciousness.

An article in a 1953 issue of Life magazine cemented Graves’ reputation as a major figure of the ‘Northwest School’ of artists. He lived and worked mostly in Western Washington, but spent considerable time traveling and living in Europe and Asia, and spent the last several years of his life in Loleta, California.

Text and more information on the Wikipedia website

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: Morris Graves In His Leek Garden 1973

From close friends to strangers, and even the artist herself, photographer Imogen Cunningham found inspiration in capturing the human form in various settings. Taking portraits of those around her, Cunningham aimed to find the “beauty of the inner self.”

Listen to this audio interview to hear Japanese and Chinese Canadian photographer Kayla Isomura discuss the lessons she has learned from Cunningham’s extensive body of work. Paying particular attention to the artist’s 1973 portrait, Morris Graves In His Leek Garden, Isomura highlights the intentional melancholy of the image and shares admiration for Cunningham’s keen ability to capture her subjects in their natural state.

 

Transcript

Narrator: Like Imogen Cunningham, photographer Kayla Isomura is known for her portraits.

Kayla Isomura: I am a fourth-generation Japanese and Chinese Canadian, with a background as well in journalism, all of which have influenced my interest in multimedia storytelling.

Narrator: Kayla identifies with Cunningham’s goal of finding the “beauty of the inner self” in her portraits. Here, Kayla notes Cunningham’s deft touch with her subject, the painter Morris Graves.

Kayla Isomura: For me, I really like capturing people kind of as they are. Even taking a photo on the spot. Sometimes people will feel self-conscious about that. But more often than not I’m taking a photo of them because there is something about them that is photogenic even if it might not be in the sort of what society might expect. It’s very important that anybody can feel comfortable in front of the camera, or anybody can feel like they’re able to see themself in a photograph.

Narrator: Twenty-three years after Cunningham first photographed her friend Graves, she received a somewhat concerning letter from him. In addition to asking if she would once again take his portrait, Graves wrote, “Like us all, I am undergoing changes that are beyond my comprehension. I am tired of life, and I understand less and less.” Soon after, Cunningham visited Graves at his retreat, a 380-acre property in Loleta, California, where she took this photo.

Kayla Isomura: Something that really stood out to me is how authentic I guess in a way that I feel like this image was captured. Looking at how the photo was taken through the leeks and the contemplative expression on his face, it made me feel like there was more to this too. Like I didn’t know if there’s a sense of even mourning or even loss or maybe he’s just kind of lost in thought in his garden.

Narrator: After developing her photographs, Cunningham sent them to Graves along with her own letter, complimenting his “aura of beauty” and hoping that her portrait would inspire him to paint again.

~ Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator, “Imogen Cunningham: Morris Graves In His Leek Garden,” on the SAMBlog website November 30, 2021 [Online] Cited 06/01/2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Sunbonnet Lady, Fillmore Street, San Francisco' c. 1950s

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Sunbonnet Lady, Fillmore Street, San Francisco
c. 1950s
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 x 7 1/2 in. (22.2 x 19.1cm)
Seattle Art Museum, Gift of John H. Hauberg

 

 

“I don’t hunt for anything. I don’t hunt for things – I just wait until something strikes me,” Cunningham said. “Of course, I hunt for an expression when I’m trying to photograph people.”

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Reeds' 1952

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Reeds
1952
Gelatin silver print
Image: 6 13/16 × 8 3/4 in.
Mount: 12 3/16 × 13 in.
Frame: 20 5/8 x 16 5/8 x 1 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'The Beach, San Francisco' About 1955

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
The Beach, San Francisco
About 1955
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 15/16 × 10 1/16 in.
Sheet: 11 7/16 × 10 7/8 in.
George Eastman Museum, museum accession

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'In Trinity Churchyard, No. 2, New York' 1956

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
In Trinity Churchyard, No. 2, New York
1956
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 7 3/8 in. (19.1 x 18.7 cm)
Seattle Art Museum, Gift of John H. Hauberg

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Morris Graves in His Leek Garden' 1973

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Morris Graves in His Leek Garden
1973
Gelatin silver print
8 ¼ x 11 3/16 in.
Seattle Art Museum, Gift of John H. Hauberg

 

 

In 1973, at ninety years old, Cunningham traveled to Loleta, California, to photograph Morris Graves in his leek garden. (The Imogen Cunningham Trust)

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Ruth Asawa, Sculptor' 1952

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Ruth Asawa, Sculptor
1952
Sepia toned gelatin silver print
9 1/2 × 7 1/2 in.
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Ruth Asawa and Albert Lanier
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust
Photo: Randy Dodson

 

 

Ruth Aiko Asawa (January 24, 1926 – August 5, 2013) was an American modernist sculptor. Her work is featured in collections at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. Fifteen of Asawa’s wire sculptures are on permanent display in the tower of San Francisco’s de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, and several of her fountains are located in public places in San Francisco. She was an arts education advocate and the driving force behind the creation of the San Francisco School of the Arts, which was renamed the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts in 2010. In 2020, the U.S. Postal Service honoured her work by producing a series of ten stamps that commemorate her well-known wire sculptures.

Text and more information on the Wikipedia website

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture' 1957

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Ruth Asawa Family and Sculpture
1957
Gelatin silver print
10 3/8 x 10 3/8 in. (26.4 x 26.4cm)
Seattle Art Museum, Gift of John H. Hauberg

 

 

Cunningham struck up a friendship with Japanese American visual artist Ruth Asawa and took a keen interest in Asawa’s strong but delicate wire sculptures, some of which are included in the Seattle Art Museum exhibit. (The Cunningham Trust)

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse' 1955

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse
1955
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 × 7 5/16 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse 1955

In Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse, Imogen Cunningham captures a moment of joy with two of her young grandchildren, Joan and Loren, as they experiment with the effects of a warped mirror. Despite the playful nature of the image, Cunningham remains stoic in photographing herself. Her face points down as she looks into the viewfinder of her black and silver-lined rectangular camera which she steadies with both hands. She is small in comparison to her grandchildren, whose elongated arms stretch the entirety of the image, but identifiable by her white hair, gemmed cap, and metallic glasses.

Tune in to this audio recording to hear Imogen Cunningham’s granddaughter, Meg Partridge, discuss Cunningham’s relationship with her grandchildren. Produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Partridge describes how this image came together and emphasises Cunningham’s signature artistic style.

 

Transcript

Narrator: An outing with two of her granddaughters and a fun house mirror provided Imogen Cunningham with an irresistible subject. Meg Partridge, granddaughter of Imogen Cunningham.

Meg Partridge: Imogen was really being very playful as she always was with photography.

Narrator: Partridge was only two when this photograph was taken, and too young to tag along. Instead, we see her older sister Joan, in the middle with both hands raised, and her cousin Loren, on the right with a hyper-elongated arm.

Meg Partridge: Imogen did not spend a lot of time taking grandchildren places and doing grandmotherly-like things. She enjoyed children once they became, as I would say, of interest to her. They could be articulate. They could have opinions. They could share thoughts.

Narrator: Cunningham worked while raising her three sons, and continued to do so once their children came along.

Meg Partridge: Looking at her work, you can see some of the same subjects coming in again and again. So we see many photographs of Imogen looking into her camera and photographing herself in a reflection or often in a shadow as well. But another is a very sort of surrealistic view that she took with her camera.

Narrator: Unlike the distorted versions of her granddaughters, her reflection in the self-portrait remains relatively true. We get just a glimpse of her grey hair beneath an embroidered cap and one-half of her eyeglasses, as her hands adjust the dials on her ever-present Rolleiflex camera.

Meg Partridge: She was able to capture great shots that were unexpected because she had a camera around her neck and she just always wore it.

~ Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator, “Imogen Cunningham: Self-Portrait with Grandchildren in Funhouse,” on the SAMBlog website January 4, 2022 [Online] Cited 06/01/2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Jump Rope, New York' 1956

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Jump Rope, New York
1956
Gelatin silver print
7 1/2 x 7 3/8 in.
Seattle Art Museum, Gift of John H. Hauberg
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'The Unmade Bed' 1957

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
The Unmade Bed
1957
Gelatin silver print
10 11/16 × 13 1/2 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

 

Imogen Cunningham: The Unmade Bed 1957

While teaching at the California School of Fine Arts in 1957, Imogen Cunningham overheard her friend and co-worker Dorothea Lange give her students an assignment: photograph something you use every 24 hours. Inspired by the simple prompt, Cunningham returned to class the next week with a new photograph she had taken titled The Unmade Bed.

Listen to an interpretive analysis of the work from Cunningham’s close friend and collaborator Judy Dater. From the perfectly rumpled sheets to the spread out piles of bobby pins, Dater discusses how this image acts as a self-portrait of the artist and explains the reason why Cunningham often gifted a print of this image to newlyweds.

 

Transcript

Narrator: A rumpled sheet and blanket are thrown back to reveal a pile of hairpins and another of bobby pins. Subtle gradations vary from the crisp white sheets exposed by sunlight, to the grey wool blanket with a shimmery trim, to the completely dark background.

Judy Dater: I can’t look at that photograph and not think of it as a self-portrait, a very personal self-portrait.

Narrator: In 1957, Dorothea Lange, best known for documenting the Great Depression, was teaching at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute. Cunningham was also teaching there when she heard her friend and fellow photographer give her students an intriguing assignment.

Judy Dater: And the assignment that, apparently, that Dorothea Lange, gave the class that day was to go home and photograph something you use every twenty-four hours. And so Imogen went home and made that particular photograph. And then when she came back the following week, she brought that in as her example.

Narrator: Did she intend it as a self-portrait? After all, those are her hair pins. Do they signify the letting down of one’s hair or one’s guard? Cunningham never said as much, but she did ascribe one message to the image.

Judy Dater: She sometimes would give that photograph to people as a wedding present so that the husband would know that the wife was going to be busy, that she had things to do, and not to expect the bed to always be made.

Narrator: Cunningham may have deliberately arranged the sheets and hairpins, or perhaps she happened upon the unmade bed exactly as she left it. For photographer Judy Dater, that’s irrelevant.

Judy Dater: She saw it and she was at the right angle at the right moment, and she knew what to do with it.

~ Lily Hansen, SAM Marketing Content Creator, “Imogen Cunningham: The Unmade Bed,” on the SAMBlog website December 14, 2021 [Online] Cited 06/01/2022

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Self-Portrait on Geary Street' 1958

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Self-Portrait on Geary Street
1958
Gelatin silver print
9 3/16 × 6 7/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Stan, San Francisco' 1959

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Stan, San Francisco
1959
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 × 7 1/16 in.
Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Cemetery In France' 1960

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Cemetery In France
1960
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 x 7 1/4 in. (21.6 x 18.4cm)
Gift of John H. Hauberg

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Minor White, Photographer' 1963

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Minor White, Photographer
1963
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 5/16 × 7 5/16 in.
Mat: 17 11/16 × 14 in.
Frame: 20 1/2 x 15 1/2 x 7/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Humboldt' 1968

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Humboldt
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 3/4 × 7 11/16 in.
Mat: 18 × 14 in.
Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Chris Through the Curtain' 1972

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Chris Through the Curtain
1972
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 13/16 × 6 11/16 in.
Mat: 18 × 14 in.
Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Pentimento' 1973

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Pentimento
1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 3/16 × 8 13/16 in.
Mount: 14 1/2 × 14 7/16 in.
Frame: 16 5/8 x 22 5/8 x 1 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Another Arm' 1973

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Another Arm
1973
Gelatin silver print
9 1/8 × 7 1/2 in.
Collection of The Imogen Cunningham Trust
© 2021 The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

 

Through the final years of her life, Cunningham would continue to do street photography. She took this photo of “Another Arm” in 1973, three years before she passed away. (The Imogen Cunningham Trust)

 

Judy-Dater. 'Imogen Cunningham and Twinka Thiebaud' 1974

 

Judy Dater (American, b. 1941)
Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite
1974
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 1/2 × 7 1/2 in.
Mount: 17 15/16 × 14 in.
Frame: 22 5/8 x 16 5/8 x 1 3/8 in.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Gift of Jack von Euw

 

 

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18
May
19

Exhibition: ‘The young Picasso – Blue and Rose Periods’ at Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, Switzerland

Exhibition dates: 3rd February – 26th May 2019

Curator: Dr Raphaël Bouvier

 

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Yo Picasso' 1901

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Yo Picasso (I Picasso)
1901
Oil on canvas
73.5 x 60cm
Private collection
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

 

Room 1

The young artist gazes defiantly over his shoulder at the viewer. His white shirt, painted with bold brushstrokes, glows against the dark background; in his right hand he holds a palette with traces of paint which, together with the lively orange and yellow in his cravat and face, create marked contrasts. The aspiring artist produced this self-portrait for his first exhibition at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery in Paris. Picasso painted himself here in a style reminiscent of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec or Vincent van Gogh. The palette alone identifies the subject as an artist. The expressively applied colours, their brushstrokes clearly visible, carry significance: here the painter is not portrayed working, but through his work itself. The painting is a bold statement by the artist newly arrived in Paris – something that Picasso underscores with the inscription ‘Yo’ (Engl.: I) besides his signature in the upper left corner of the canvas. From this point on, he would sign his works simply ‘Picasso’ – his mother’s surname.

 

 

And now for something completely different…

My favourite periods of Picasso, probably because her tries to depict the feelings of the people he is portraying.

I love the paintings disrupted humanism, the monumental, twisted, isolated figures placed against a colourful, pictorially flattened, sometimes contextless ground. The spirit these paintings call forth – the intense gaze in the 1901 self-portrait; the sad introspection, depression of the Melancholy Women (1901); the existential themes of death, suffering and love in La Vie (Life) (1903) – show a 21 year old artist mature beyond his years, wizened in wisdom and understanding through the death of his sister and his friend Casagemas: “poverty, dejection, creative anguish, and grief for those lost.”

“In the most emotional, emotionally expressive pictures of this phase, the artist looks into the depths of human misery and relies on expressive topics such as life, love, sexuality and death.” The circus and acrobat paintings continue the theme of melancholy, disenchanted figures of the commedia dell’arte intertwined in the transformation of bodies in space (Henri Lefebvre).

Call me an old romantic, but the attitude and the touch of the emaciated blind man’s hand as he reaches for his flagon of wine totally does it for me in a way that the more brutish, primitivist paintings of his later raw style never can.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Fondation Beyeler for allowing me to publish the images in the posting. Please click on the images for a larger version of the art.

 

 

“I was a painter and became Picasso.”

 

“The Blue Period was not a question of light and colour. It was an inner necessity to paint like that.

.
Pablo Picasso

 

 

At the age of just twenty, the aspiring genius Picasso (1881-1973) was already engaged in a restless search for new themes and forms of expression, which he immediately brought to perfection. One artistic revolution followed another, in a rapid succession of changing styles and visual worlds. The exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler places the focus on the Blue and Rose periods (1901-1906), and thus on a central phase in Picasso’s work. It also sheds fresh light on the emergence, from 1907 onward, of Cubism, as an epochal new movement that was nevertheless rooted in the art of the preceding period.

In these poignant and magical works, realised in Spain and France, Picasso – the artist of the century – creates images that have a universal evocative power. Matters of existential significance, such as life, love, sexuality, fate, and death, find their embodiment in the delicate beauty of young women and men, but also in depictions of children and old people who carry within them happiness and joy, accompanied by sadness.

Text from the Fondation Beyeler website [Online] Cited 19/04/2019

 

Unknown photographer. 'Pablo Picasso, Pere Mañach and Antonio Torres Fuster, Boulevard de Clichy 130, Paris' 1901

 

Unknown photographer
Pablo Picasso, Pere Mañach and Antonio Torres Fuster, Boulevard de Clichy 130, Paris
1901
Photo: © NMR-Grand Palace (Picasso-Paris National Museum) / Daniel Arnaudet

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Buveuse d'absinthe' (The Absinthe Drinker) 1901

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Buveuse d’absinthe (The Absinthe Drinker)
1901
Oil on canvas
73 x 54cm
The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

 

 

Room 2

In his early years, Picasso reused his canvases multiple times, mostly due to a lack of money. He often overpainted his own pictures or – as in Femme dans la loge and Buveuse d’absinthe – used both the front and back sides. Femme dans la loge was done at the time of Picasso’s first exhibition at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery. While the figure of the ageing dancer or courtesan, along with the setting, showcase a colouristic firework, the woman’s face is carefully modelled, revealing individualised features. The work Buveuse d’absinthe, today known as the front side, was created only shortly thereafter, and marks the transition from Picasso’s early pictures to those of the Blue Period. Here, flat, opaquely applied colours extend over large areas, with individual fields of colour clearly delineated from one another by dark contours. The absinthe drinker sits away from the small table, alone, her gaze blank, self-absorbed. The scene emanates an atmosphere of melancholy and other-worldliness that would later come to typify the works of the Blue Period.

“… the images created by the young artist are sharply dramatic. For example, in this painting, the most striking detail is a giant right hand of a woman, who is absorbed in her thoughts and tries to embrace and protect herself with this hand.”

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Arlequin assis' (Harlequin sitting) 1901

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Arlequin assis (Harlequin sitting)
1901
Oil on canvas
83.2 x 61.3cm
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase Mr. and Mrs. John L. Loeb, Gift 1960
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource / Scala, Florence

 

 

Room 2

Arlequin assis is one of the earliest Harlequin depictions in Picasso’s oeuvre. In an unnaturally twisted pose, the Harlequin sits at a table and turns his head in the opposite direction to the rest of his body. The table jutting diagonally into the picture space offers him a support on which to rest his elbow. As in Picasso’s female portraits of 1901, here, too, the hands attract the viewer’s attention due to their large size and elongated shape. Surprisingly, the Harlequin with his melancholy posture in fact bears the facial features of Pierrot. Although Picasso was perfectly familiar with the differences between Harlequin and Pierrot, he often mixed up their distinguishing features. At that time, the two commedia dell’arte figures were part of popular culture, be it in magazine illustrations, the circus or in the opera.

 

Introduction of the exhibition

Pablo Picasso’s pioneering works of the Blue and Rose Periods, which characterise his oeuvre from 1901 to 1906, ushered in the art of the twentieth-century and at the same time constitute one of its outstanding achievements. In fact, Picasso’s pictures from these years include some of the subtlest examples of modern painting and are now among the most valuable and sought-after art treasures of all.

Extensive presentations of these works are accordingly rare. The exhibition “The Young Picasso: Blue and Rose Periods” at the Fondation Beyeler thus represents a milestone in the history of the museum. The show traces the unparalleled artistic development that began with the works of the early months of 1901, when Picasso was not yet twenty, and continued until 1907. In the course of these six years, the young Pablo Ruiz Picasso developed his own personal style and became “Picasso,” as he began to sign his works in 1901. The compelling images of the Blue and Rose Periods, characterised by a unique emotional power and depth, show the artist from an exceptionally sensitive side and thus offer a nuanced picture of his work and personality.

The exhibition begins with works from the early months of 1901, created initially in Madrid and then above all during Picasso’s second stay in Paris. These exuberantly colourful paintings, which clearly exhibit the influence of Vincent van Gogh and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, reveal Picasso’s personal view of Paris and the elegant world of the Belle Époque. From the late summer of 1901 onward, following the tragic suicide of his artist-friend Carles Casagemas, who had accompanied him during his first visit to Paris, in 1900, Picasso began work on a series of pictures in which the colour blue became the dominant expressive element, announcing the start of the so-called Blue Period. He created these works, pervaded by an atmosphere of melancholy and spirituality, in the following years, up to 1904, as he moved back and forth between Paris and Barcelona. They owe at least part of their inspiration to Symbolism and the singular Mannerist style of El Greco and show Picasso engaging with existential questions of life, love, sexuality, fate, and death, movingly embodied by fragile, introverted figures of all ages. The pictures of the Blue Period are mainly concerned with marginalised victims of society, in situations of extreme vulnerability – beggars, people with disabilities, prostitutes, and prisoners, living in poverty and misery, whose despair is mitigated, however, by an aura of dignity and grace. This also reflects Picasso’s own precarious circumstances before his breakthrough as an artist.

His final relocation to Paris, in 1904, when he set up his studio at the Bateau-Lavoir, marked the beginning of a new phase in his life and work. It is at this point that Picasso met Fernande Olivier, his first longer-term companion and muse. The pictures gradually break free from the limited palette dominated by blue, which gives way to warmer rose and ochre tones, although the underlying mood of melancholy still persists. Picasso’s works are increasingly populated by jugglers, performers, and acrobats, in group or family configurations, personifying the anti-bourgeois, bohemian life of the circus and the art world. In 1906 the artist achieved his first major commercial success, when the dealer Ambroise Vollard bought nearly the entire stock of new pictures in his studio. This enabled Picasso, with Olivier, to leave Paris and spend several weeks in the Catalonian mountain village of Gósol. Under the impression of the rugged landscape and the villagers’ simple way of life, Picasso painted mainly pictures of human figures in idyllic, primordial settings, combining classical and archaic elements.

In the fall of 1906, after his return to Paris, he spent some time absorbing the impressions from his recent encounters with ancient Iberian sculpture and the visual world of Paul Gauguin, and began, in his quest for a new artistic authenticity, to formulate a Primitivist pictorial language. This found expression in an innovative reduction and simplification of the human figure. In sharp contrast to the fine-limbed creatures of the circus world, Picasso’s figures from this phase are bulky and heavy, with impressive female nudes whose bodies take on almost geometric form. This new conception of the figure took a further, radical turn in 1907, in the works that would lead – also under the growing influence of African and Oceanic art – to Picasso’s revolutionary painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, proclaiming the advent of Cubism.

The development of the Blue and Rose Periods makes it clear that the young Picasso managed, within just six years, to achieve a preternaturally early aesthetic perfection, incorporating artistic mannerisms and archaisms into the articulation of new principles for the depiction of the human body through deformation and deconstruction. In a process that only appears contradictory, Picasso’s striving for new aesthetic possibilities advanced through several forms of refinement, and in a gradual emancipation from classical ideals of beauty, to the realisation of a groundbreaking form of artistic authenticity and autonomy. Cubism, in this light, no longer appears as a radical hiatus in Picasso’s oeuvre, but rather as the logical extension of the artistic ideas of the Blue and Rose Periods.

The exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler, which has been organised in collaboration with the Musées d’Orsay et de l’Orangerie and the Musée national Picasso-Paris, differs from the first presentation in Paris in one important respect: its prospective extension of the view of Picasso’s Blue and Rose Periods by the inclusion of the artist’s first proto-Cubist pictures from 1907, created in the context of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. One of the preliminary studies for the latter work, titled Femme (époque des “Demoiselles d’Avignon”), forms the spectacular starting point of the Fondation Beyeler’s extensive Picasso collection, and at the same time marks the finale of this exhibition. Whereas the presentation in Paris supplemented the finished works with numerous preliminary studies and copious archive material, the exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler places the focus firmly on Picasso’s painting and sculpture in the period concerned. With some seventy-five masterpieces from renowned museums and outstanding private collections across the globe, the show presents the quintessence of Picasso’s oeuvre from 1901 to 1907, illuminating a chief phase of transition in the multifaceted work of the young artist. Many central works from this period now count among the major attractions in the collections of leading international museums. Yet, several key works are still in private hands – a number of which are on public display in Riehen for the first time in many decades.

Text from the Fondation Beyeler website [Online] Cited 19/04/2019

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Arlequin et sa compagne' (Harlequin and his companion) 1901

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Arlequin et sa compagne (Harlequin and his companion)
1901
Oil on canvas
73 x 60cm
Moscow, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Casagemas dans cercueil' (Casagemas in His Coffin) 1901

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Casagemas dans cercueil (Casagemas in His Coffin)
1901
Oil on cardboard
72.5 x 57.8cm
Private collection

 

 

Room 3

This impressive work was one of a series of paintings with which Picasso dealt with the tragic loss of his artist-friend Carles Casagemas, who committed suicide on 17 February 1901. In the vertical-format picture only part of the lifeless figure is depicted. The body, diagonally fixed into the composition, is cropped by the coffin and the picture edge. Rendered in profile, the face with its yellow-green colouration and prominent facial contours stands out against the blue-white shroud. The image represents a variation of the painting La Mort de Casagemas (below) from the same period, which is also on view in the present exhibition. In it, the subject’s head has been moved close to the viewer and a huge candle emits multicoloured light. By contrast, most of the other works in the Casagemas cycle are rendered in a range of mainly blue tones. Picasso retrospectively remarked: ‘The thought that Casagemas was dead led to me painting in blue’.

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'La Mort de Casagemas' 1901

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
La Mort de Casagemas (The Death of Casagemas)
1901
Oil on wood
27 x 35cm
Musée national Picasso-Paris
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Mathieu Rabeau

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Le Mort (la mise au tombeau)' (Death (The Burial)) 1901

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Le Mort (la mise au tombeau) (Death (The Burial))
1901
Oil on canvas
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Courtesan with necklace of gems' 1901

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Courtesan with necklace of gems (Courtesan avec collier de pierres précieuses)
1901
Oil on canvas
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Femme en bleu' 1901

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Femme en bleu (Woman in blue)
1901
Oil on canvas
133 x 100cm
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reine Sofía
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Autoportrait' 1901

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Autoportrait (Self-portrait)
1901
Oil on canvas
81 x 60cm
Musée national Picasso-Paris
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Mathieu Rabeau

 

 

Room 3

Picasso painted this self-portrait at the end of his second stay in Paris. Compared with the work Yo Picasso, exhibited at the Galerie Vollard in the summer of 1901, a clear shift has taken place the following winter. The artist portrays himself bearded and pale-faced, with hollow cheeks, aged and wrapped in a heavy overcoat, making his body appear like a dense mass. The imposing, self-assured pose of the first portrait has given way to a posture conveying uncertainty. Yet here, too, Picasso’s intense gaze casts its spell on the viewer. The self-portrait is one of Picasso’s first works that emphasise the rich variety of his range of blue tones. As a means to express melancholy, blue pervades the entire composition, which is divided into blue-green and midnight blue fields of colour. Picasso kept the painting throughout his life.

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Femme assise au fichu' 1901

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Femme assise au fichu (Melancholy Woman)
1901
Oil on canvas
100 x 69.2cm
The Detroit Institute of Arts, Bequest of Robert H. Tannahill
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © Bridgeman Images

 

 

Room 3

Femme assise au fichu presents a seated woman in profile, introspectively withdrawn, her arms folded and legs crossed. Her brightly illuminated face lends her an appearance both profound and monumental. She is situated in a bare room, probably a cell in the Saint-Lazare women’s prison in Paris, which Picasso visited several times in the autumn and winter of 1901-02 to make drawings for his portraits of women. The prison also housed numerous prostitutes, many of whom suffered from sexually transmitted diseases. In paintings such as this one, Picasso found a universal means of representing the social themes of poverty, misery and isolation.

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'La Buveuse assoupie' (The Drinker dozing) 1902

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
La Buveuse assoupie (The Drinker dozing)
1902
Oil on canvas
Kunstmuseum Bern, Stiftung Othmar Huber, Berne
© Succession Picasso/ 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

View of the installation of the painting 'La Vie' (1903) for the exhibition 'The young Picasso - Blue and Rose Periods' at Fondation Beyeler

 

View of the installation of the painting La Vie (1903) for the exhibition The young Picasso – Blue and Rose Periods at Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, Switzerland

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'La Vie' 1903

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
La Vie (Life)
1903
Oil on canvas
197 x 127.3cm
The Cleveland Museum of Art, Donation Hanna Fund
© Succession Picasso / ProLitteris, Zurich 2018
Photo: © The Cleveland Museum of Art

 

 

Room 3

In La Vie, the allegorical masterpiece of the Blue Period, Picasso brings together existential themes such as death, suffering and love in a complexity suffused with melancholy. When the then twenty-one-year-old artist began with the preparatory drawings for this monumental painting in Barcelona in May 1903, he had already been painting primarily blue pictures for over two years. Although Picasso had originally planned the work as a self-portrait, his deceased friend Carles Casagemas appears here once again (and for the final time). Accompanied by a naked woman who nestles against his body, he stands in the left half of the picture, wearing only a white loincloth. He points his index finger at a clad woman, who carries an infant swaddled in a cloth. Appearing in the background as pictures within a picture are further figures, cowering. They lend the work an additional symbolic and enigmatic dimension.

In Picasso’s most celebrated painting from the Blue Period, however, he returns to the plight of the artist. La Vie (Life) (1903) brings us into an artist’s studio. While earlier versions of the painting, locked beneath the final work and revealed by X-rays, show Picasso as the central figure, in the end he depicted Casagemas as his subject. He is naked except for a loincloth as a nude woman clutches him, and the two look over at a mother and child. Behind them sit two canvases covered with crouching bodies.

Every element of the scene conveys vulnerability. The artist brings different facets of his troubles into a single canvas: poverty, dejection, creative anguish, and grief for those lost, like Casagemas. Interestingly, those X-rays have also revealed that the painting was executed on top of an earlier work called Last Moments, inspired by his sister’s death.

Perhaps, in bringing these various instances of heartbreak together, Picasso was also in the final stages of processing his grief. Indeed, soon after the artist finished La Vie, he moved to Paris and emerged from his Blue Period – into a palette of soft, joyful pinks. “Colours, like features, follow the changes of the emotions,” Picasso later explained.

Extract from Alexxa Gotthardt. “The Emotional Turmoil behind Picasso’s Blue Period,” on the Artsy website Dec 13, 2017 [Online] Cited 19/04/2019

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Le Repas de l'aveugle' (The Blind Man's Meal) 1903

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Le Repas de l’aveugle (The Blind Man’s Meal)
1903
Oil on canvas
95.3 x 94.6cm
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase Mr. and Mrs. Ira Haupt, Gift 1950
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © 2017, The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Art Resource / Scala, Florence

 

 

Room 3

Painted in Barcelona in 1903, the picture Le Repas de l’aveugle depicts an emaciated blind man sitting before a frugal meal. The man’s whole suffering is conveyed by the exaggeration of his body with his bony shoulders, hollow-cheeked face and thin fingers. He is one of those miserable and solitary figures that appear like modern martyrs in Picasso’s pictures. The depicted provisions – the bread and wine – could be interpreted as Christian symbols. The starkly reduced range of colours and the dramatic effect of the scene created by the light lend the image a mystical quality. Here we feel the influence of El Greco’s paintings and Spanish religious art of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

 

 

This exhibition, the most ambitious ever staged by the Fondation Beyeler, is devoted to the paintings and sculptures of the young Pablo Picasso from the so-called Blue and Rose periods, between 1901 and 1906. For the first time in Europe, the masterpieces of these crucial years, most of them a milestone on Picasso’s path to preeminence as the twentieth century’s most famous artist, are presented together, in a concentration and quality that are unparalleled. Picasso’s pictures from this phase of creative ferment are some of the finest and most emotionally compelling examples of modern painting, and are counted among the most valuable and sought-after works in the entire history of art. It is unlikely that they will be seen again in such a selection in a single place.

At the age of just twenty, the rising genius Picasso (1881-1973) embarked on a quest for new themes and forms of expression, which he immediately refined to a pitch of perfection. One artistic revolution followed another, in a rapid succession of changing styles and visual worlds. The focus of the exhibition is on the Blue and Rose periods, and thus on the six years in the life of the young Picasso that can be considered central to his entire oeuvre, paving the way for the epochal emergence of Cubism, which developed from Picasso’s previous work, in 1907. Here, the exhibition converges with the Fondation Beyeler’s permanent collection, whose earliest picture by Picasso is a study, dating from this pivotal year, for the Demoiselles d’Avignon.

In the chronologically structured exhibition, Picasso’s early painting career is explored through examples of his treatment of human subjects. Journeying back and forth between Paris and Barcelona, he addressed the human figure in a series of different approaches. In the phase dominated by the colour blue, from 1901, he observed the material deprivation and the psychological suffering of people on the margins of society, before turning – in 1905, when he had settled in Paris – to the themes of the Rose period, conferring the dignity of art on the hopes and yearnings of circus performers: jugglers, acrobats and harlequins. In his search for a new artistic authenticity, Picasso stayed for several weeks in mid-1906 in the village of Gósol, in the Spanish Pyrenees, and created a profusion of paintings and sculptures uniting classical and archaic ideals of the body. Finally, the increasing deformation and fragmentation of the figure, apparent in the “primitivist” pictures, especially of the female nude, which were painted subsequently in Paris, heralds the emergence of the new pictorial language of Cubism.

Press release from Fondation Beyeler website [Online] Cited 19/04/2019

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Femme en chemise (Madeleine)' 1904-1905

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Femme en chemise (Madeleine) (Young Woman in a Chemise (Madeleine))
1904-1905
Oil on canvas
72.7 x 60cm
London, Tate, Bequeathed by C. Frank Stoop 1933
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © Tate, London 2018

 

 

Room 4

A young woman, depicted in profile, stands isolated in an empty, dark-blue space. Her slender body is draped in a white blouse. Her left breast, its curve emphasised, is simultaneously concealed and revealed by the flimsily thin cloth. The woman’s pale skin and distinct facial features, as well as the delicately defined contours of her body, set her apart from the background. The colour scheme, suffused with light and depth, hints at Picasso’s gradual turn to warm pink and brown tones. The identity of the model long remained unclear because Picasso had overpainted the figure of a boy here with the slender silhouette of his first muse and lover, Madeleine. The artist first met Madeleine in 1904, after moving into his studio at the Bateau-Lavoir in Paris. She posed repeatedly for Picasso’s paintings in the transitional phase from the Blue to the Rose Period, until the spring of 1905.

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Fillette nue au panier de fleurs' (Le panier fleuri) (Girl with a Basket of Flowers) 1905

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Fillette nue au panier de fleurs (Le panier fleuri) (Girl with a Basket of Flowers)
1905
Oil on canvas
155 x 66 cm
Private collection, New York

 

 

The painting Fillette au panier de fleurs is surprising in many respects. First of all, because of the extended vertical format, which also makes the girl appear elongated. The adolescent stands quite naked before us, with her body turned to the side and a serious expression on her face. A slight counter-movement is suggested in the transition from her feet to her torso. The girl’s face is turned towards the viewer and carefully modelled in the manner of a portrait. The body, by contrast, appears somewhat withdrawn, almost unreal. The radiant red flowers in the woven basket create a strong accent against the pale skin, black hair and light blue background. The art dealer Clovis Sagot purchased the picture from Picasso for the modest sum of seventy-five francs. It was one of the first works that the American writer and art collector Gertrude Stein acquired together with her brother Leo, as early as 1905. The Stein siblings subsequently built up a significant Picasso collection

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Le Marchand de gui' (The Mistletoe Seller) 1902-03

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Le Marchand de gui (The Mistletoe Seller)
1902-03
Oil on Canvas
55 x 38cm
© Succession Picasso / 2018 ProLitteris, Zurich 2018

 

 

Room 5

With an empathetic eye, Picasso concentrates here on the representation of two poverty-stricken people who together go about their hard, daily work – the selling of mistletoe. The wrinkled yet gentle face of the bearded old man contrasts with the smooth, fresh, yet serious visage of the boy, for whom the companion is at once antithesis and role model. While the two figures do not look at one another, their physical closeness and the old man’s affectionate gesture nevertheless suggest the greatest tenderness. With the subtle play of colours, Picasso succeeds in generating a mystical atmosphere. In his dignified appearance, the mistletoe vendor with the child comes here to symbolise a life of poverty endured without resignation and at the same time the hope of happiness.

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Tête d'un arlequin' (Head of a harlequin) 1905

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Tête d’un arlequin (Head of a harlequin)
1905
Oil on canvas
40.7 x 31.8cm
The Detroit Institute of Arts, Bequest of Robert H. Tannahill
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © Bridgeman Images

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Femme de l'Île de Majorque' (Woman from Mallorca) 1905

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Femme de l’Île de Majorque (Woman from Mallorca)
1905
Gouache and watercolour on cardboard
67 x 51cm
Moscow, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Femme à l'éventail' (Woman with a fan) 1905

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Femme à l’éventail (Woman with a fan)
1905
Oil on canvas
100.3 x 81cm
Washington, National Gallery of Art, Gift of the W. Averell Harriman Foundation in memory of Marie N. Hariman
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Famille de saltimbanques avec un singe' (Family of acrobats with a monkey) 1905

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Famille de saltimbanques avec un singe (Family of acrobats with a monkey)
1905
Oil on canvas
© Succession Picasso/2018, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © Göteborg Konstmuseum

 

 

Une vie pas tout à fait en rose: A life not quite in pink

Regarding the pink period, Apollinaire preferred to call it the “period of acrobats”, which would be more accurate as the works are not only pink. In 1905, without actually adopting this colour, Picasso moved away from cold nocturnal tonalities for a semblance of serenity, as if the colours corresponded indeed to a state of mind. The tones are earthy, pastels. The unit is more likely to come from the circus theme and in particular from the Circus Medrano, not far from the Bateau-Lavoir, which Picasso frequents as many painters and poets of his time. It’s less about the circus, like Seurat’s, than about his backstage, like a family of acrobats with a monkey. The characters of the commedia dell’arte are intertwined, the figure of the buffoon and the figure of the madman who will be the subject of a sculpture. This one, exposed to the Foundation, was the portrait of the poet Max Jacob, to whom Picasso then added the cap which completed the analogy between the madman and the artist. Picasso liked to be assimilated to this strange, wandering, unattached, somewhat marginalised person who, like the artist, can afford a critical look at the world. There is still a lot of blue and melancholy. The same misery permeates the scene of the couple watching an empty plate, the clumsy and lonely pink acrobat or the sickly Harlequin. No acrobatic scenes under the applause of the public. Here we find the same disenchantment. Apollinaire always speaks of “pulmonary” rose. The blue / pink partition therefore remains relative.

Extract from Geneviève Nevejan. “Picasso jeune et mélancolique,” on the Choisir website 31 January 2019 [Online] Cited 19/04/2019. No longer available online

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Acrobate et jeune arlequin' 1905

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Acrobate et jeune arlequin (Acrobat and Young Harlequin)
1905
Gouache on cardboard
105 x 76cm
Private collection
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich

 

 

Room 5

Acrobate et jeune arlequin is among Picasso’s most impressive pictures from the world of the circus. Two performers of delicate appearance sit in front of a tattered looking blue backdrop. On the left is an androgynous boy in Harlequin costume with a chalk-white face, gazing to the right, towards the young man in acrobat’s clothing. The latter is depicted with arms clasped and eyes closed. At the transition point between the worlds of blue and pink, both the space and the figures seem to be in a state of transformation. Can the diamond pattern of the Harlequin’s costume and the geometric shape of the acrobat’s arms be seen as anticipating a ‘Cubification’ of the body? As the first-ever museum purchase of a work by Picasso, Acrobate et jeune arlequin was acquired for the municipal museum in Elberfeld near Wuppertal in 1911; today it is privately owned.

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Arlequin assis sur fond rouge' 1905

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Arlequin assis sur fond rouge (Seated Harlequin on Red Background)
1905
Watercolour and ink on cardboard
57.5 x 41.2cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Museum Berggruen
© Succession Picasso / 2018 ProLitteris, Zurich 2018
Photo: bpk / Nationalgalerie, SMB, Museum Berggruen / Jens Ziehe

 

 

Room 6

Picasso never presents his Harlequins as tricksters or buffoons entertaining the audience with wild leaps, but rather as passive, melancholy figures. In Arlequin assis au fond rouge the Harlequin sits, motionless, his mouth closed. His naked, slightly splayed legs dangle from a wall. He appears bare, exposed, even though he wears a thin, washed-out costume and a hat. Despite his conspicuously frontal pose, his gaze is not directed exactly at the viewer. Picasso aims at capturing the essence of the figure, his great solitude, which is further accentuated by the vibrant, pulsating red background. The Harlequin figure may also embody the creative, sensitive artist, who must stand his ground in modern society

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'The young Picasso - Blue and Rose Periods' at Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, Switzerland

 

Installation view of the exhibition The young Picasso – Blue and Rose Periods at Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, Switzerland showing at left, La toilette (1906) and at right, Les Deux Frères (The Two Brothers) (1906)

 

 

Room 7

In Deux Frères a boy carries his younger brother on his back; the two appear to merge together. The elder boy’s facial features are finely modelled, whereas those of the younger one are somewhat blurred and reduced to a few shapes. Both figures are naked, and place and time are uncertain. Only the edge of the floor and dark shadows indicate the room in which they are located. The artist makes it seem here that the figures are made of the same material as the space surrounding them. The painting was produced in Gósol, a Catalan mountain village in the eastern Pyrenees, where Picasso retreated for several weeks in the early summer of 1906. Far from urban life, he began developing a new pictorial language characterised by simplicity and earthiness. Here, Picasso drew inspiration notably from the naked body, initially from the male and then the female one.

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'La toilette' 1906

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
La toilette
1906
Oil on canvas
59 1/2 x 39 inches (151.13 x 99.06cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Fellows for Life Fund, 1926
© Succession Picasso / 2018 ProLitteris, Zurich 2018

 

 

Room 7

In the summer of 1904 Picasso met Fernande Olivier, who would become his most important model and was also his companion until 1912. She shared with him a desperately poor life at the run-down Bateau-Lavoir studio building, in Montmartre, Paris. In 1906 she accompanied him to the Pyrenean village of Gósol in Spain. Olivier posed for Picasso, and to an extent her figure became a field for artistic experimentation. In La Toilette, Picasso’s search for a new archaic formal language still manifests itself in predominantly classical figures. In a bare interior, a naked young woman stands to the left, turned towards the viewer, arranging her hair in a mirror held by a black-haired woman dressed in blue and seen in profile. It is possible that the depictions of both women are portraits of Olivier, highlighting different, contrasting facets of the same person.

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Autoportrait' (Self-portrait) 1906

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Autoportrait (Self-portrait)
1906
Oil on canvas
65 x 54cm
Musée national Picasso-Paris
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Mathieu Rabeau

 

 

Room 8

In his early years Picasso frequently portrayed himself. Although not identified by obvious attributes, this image is also a self-portrait of the artist in which he illustrates his most recent achievements as a painter. The stocky man’s solid torso, his greyish skin tone and mask-like face exemplify the Primitivist pictorial language that Picasso developed in 1906. The artist was seeking new means of expression, painting almost exclusively nudes and in the process moving noticeably away from his earlier work. He was no longer interested in depicting feelings, wanting rather to experiment with new forms and render his subjects with new pictorial means. Picasso’s facial features in this painting appear formulaic, stereotypical – and he has moved quite some distance from the aesthetic of the Blue and Rose Periods.

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Femme nue assise, les jambes croisées' (Seated Female Nude with Crossed Legs) 1906

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Femme nue assise, les jambes croisées (Seated Female Nude with Crossed Legs)
1906
Oil on canvas

 

 

Room 8

Picasso’s discovery of centuries-old Iberian sculpture flowed, in the autumn of 1906, into numerous female nudes in which a new, raw style emerged. Among them is this imposing representation of a seated woman in which the artist limited himself to brown and grey tones. The schematically rendered robust body composed of geometric volumes and the ossified, mask-like face with its empty eyes are typical of Picasso’s Primitivism in this period. Thus, the artist introduced here, within a classical picture theme, a new image of the body, aimed at reduction. This was to prove seminal for his artistic development in subsequent years culminating in the painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Nu sur fond rouge (Jeune femme nue à la chevelure)' 1906

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Nu sur fond rouge (Jeune femme nue à la chevelure) (Nude on red background (Young nude woman with hair)
1906
Oil on canvas
81 x 54cm
Paris, Musée de l’Orangerie, Collection Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume
© Succession Picasso / 2018, ProLitteris, Zurich
Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée de l’Orangerie) / Hervé Lewandowski

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) 'Femme' (Epoque des "Demoiselles d’Avignon") 1907

 

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Femme (Epoque des “Demoiselles d’Avignon”) (Woman (‘Demoiselles d’Avignon’ Period))
1907
Oil on canvas
119 x 93.5cm
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen / Basel
© Succession Picasso / 2018 ProLitteris, Zurich Photo: Robert Bayer, Basel

 

 

Room 9

Femme, from 1907, also originated in the context of Picasso’s seminal picture Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and is the earliest work in the extensive Picasso collection assembled by Ernst and Hildy Beyeler. The sketch-like painting shows a naked female figure with raised arms, depicted in a pose that remains ambivalent. Wearing the cap of a sailor or ship’s captain (perhaps her hair is also set in a chignon), she is presented next to a yellow curtain drawn to the side and in front of a blue and green background. The face, whose features recall those of African masks, clearly reveals the great influence that non-European sculpture had on Picasso in this phase of his career. Whereas the figure’s face, arms and breasts are fully painted and bordered with clear contours, the lower body is sketched with just a few lines. In Femme Picasso seems to be deliberately playing with an aesthetic of incompletion – yet in light of its expressive power and manner of composition, the work is unquestionably finished.

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Pablo Picasso on Place Ravignan, Montmartre, Paris' 1904

 

Anonymous photographer
Pablo Picasso on Place Ravignan, Montmartre, Paris
1904
Silver gelatin print on paper
12 x 8.9cm
Musée national Picasso-Paris

 

 

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30
Dec
14

Exhibition: ‘Horst: Photographer of Style’ at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Exhibition dates: 6th September 2014 – 4th January 2015

Curator: Susanna Brown, Curator of Photographs at the V&A

 

 

Installation image of 'Horst - Photographer of Style' at the V&A

 

Installation image of Horst – Photographer of Style at the V&A
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

Steichen, Penn, Avedon, Newman – and then there is Horst, master of them all. Style, elegance, lighting, framing, colour but above all panache – the guts and talent to push it just that little bit further.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Victoria & Albert Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“Fashion is an expression of the times. Elegance is something else again.”

.
Horst, 1984

 

 

Installation image of 'Horst - Photographer of Style' at the V&A

Installation image of 'Horst - Photographer of Style' at the V&A

Installation image of 'Horst - Photographer of Style' at the V&A

Installation image of 'Horst - Photographer of Style' at the V&A

Installation image of 'Horst - Photographer of Style' at the V&A

 

Installation images of Horst – Photographer of Style at the V&A
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

This autumn, the V&A will present the definitive retrospective exhibition of the work of master photographer Horst P. Horst (1906-1999) – one of the leading photographers of the 20th century. In his illustrious 60-year career, German-born Horst worked predominantly in Paris and New York and creatively traversed the worlds of photography, art, fashion, design, theatre and high society.

Horst: Photographer of Style will display 250 photographs, alongside haute couture garments, magazines, film footage and ephemera. The exhibition explores Horst’s collaborations and friendships with leading couturiers such as Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli in Paris; stars including Marlene Dietrich and Noël Coward; and artists and designers such as Salvador Dalí and Jean-Michel Frank. Highlights of the exhibition include photographs recently donated to the V&A by Gert Elfering, art collector and owner of the Horst Estate, previously unpublished vintage prints, and more than 90 Vogue covers by Horst.

The exhibition will also reveal lesser-known aspects of Horst’s work: nude studies, travel photographs from the Middle East and patterns created from natural forms. The creative process behind some of his most famous photographs, such as the Mainbocher Corset, will be revealed through the inclusion of original contact sheets, sketches and cameras. The many sources that influenced Horst – from ancient Classical art to Bauhaus ideals of modern design and Surrealism in 1930s Paris – will be explored.

Martin Roth, Director of the V&A said: “Horst was one of the greatest photographers of fashion and society and produced some of the most famous and evocative images of the 20th century. This exhibition will shine a light on all aspects of his long and distinguished career. Horst’s legacy and influence, which has been seen in work by artists, designers and performers including Herb Ritts, Robert Mapplethorpe, Bruce Weber and Madonna, continues today.”

Horst’s career straddled the opulence of pre-war Parisian haute couture and the rise of ready-to-wear in post-war New York and his style developed from lavish studio set-ups to a more austere approach in the latter half of the 20th century. The exhibition will begin in the 1930s with Horst’s move to Paris and his early experiments in the Vogue studio. Among his first models and muses were Lisa Fonssagrives, Helen Bennett and Lyla Zelensky. Vintage black and white photographs from the archive of Paris Vogue will be displayed alongside garments in shades of black, white, silver and gold by Parisian couturiers such as Chanel, Lanvin, Molyneux and Vionnet.

The exhibition will then focus on Horst’s Surreal-inspired studies and collaborations with Salvador Dalí and Elsa Schiaparelli. Fashion photographs will be shown with trompe l’oeil portraits and haunting still life. Horst excelled at portraiture and in the 1930s he captured some of Hollywood’s brightest stars: Rita Hayworth, Bette Davis, Vivien Leigh, Noël Coward, Ginger Rogers, Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford, to name a few.

Horst travelled widely throughout the 1940s and 1950s to Israel, Iran, Syria, Italy and Morocco. An escape from the world of fashion and city environs, his little-known travel photographs reveal a fascination for ancient cultures, landscapes and architecture. On display will be works taken in Iran such as the Persepolis Bull, Horst’s powerful image of a vast sculpture head amidst the ruins of a once magnificent palace, and images documenting the annual migration of the nomadic Qashqai clan.

Detailed studies of natural forms such as flowers, minerals, shells and butterfly wings from the project Patterns From Nature, will be shown alongside a series of kaleidoscopic collages made by arranging photographs in simple repeat; his intention was that these dynamic patterns could be used as designs for textiles, wallpaper, carpets, plastics and glass.

Horst was admired for his dramatic lighting and became one of the first photographers to perfect the new colour techniques of the 1930s. A short film of him at work in the Vogue studios during the 1940s will be shown with an introduction to his peers including Lee Miller, Cecil Beaton and Irving Penn. The advent of colour enabled a fresh approach and Horst went on to create more than 90 Vogue covers and countless pages in vivid colour. A selection of 25 large colour photographs, newly printed from the original transparencies from the Condé Nast Archive, will demonstrate Horst’s exceptional skill as a colourist. These prints feature Horst’s favourite models from the 1940s and 50s, such as Carmen Dell’Orefice, Muriel Maxwell and Dorian Leigh, and will be shown together with preparatory sketches, which have never previously been exhibited.

In the early 1950s, Horst created a series of male nudes for an exhibition in Paris for which the models were carefully posed and dramatically lit to accentuate their musculature. The series evokes the classical sculpture that Horst so admired throughout his career. During the 1960s and 1970s, Horst photographed some of the world’s most beautiful and luxurious homes for House and Garden and Vogue under the editorship of his friend Diana Vreeland. A three-sided projection and interactive screens will present these colourful studies. Among the most memorable are the Art Deco apartment of Karl Lagerfeld, the three lavish dwellings of Yves Saint Laurent and the Roman palazzo of artist Cy Twombly.

In the latter years of Horst’s life, his early aesthetic experienced a renaissance. The period also witnessed a flurry of new books, exhibitions, and television documentaries celebrating his work. Horst produced new, lavish prints in platinum-palladium for museums and the collector’s market, selecting emblematic works from every decade of his career, which will be showcased as the finale to the exhibition.

Press release from the V&A

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Chanel, Vogue France' 1935

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Chanel, Vogue France
1935
© Condé Nast/Horst Estate

 

 

A fore-runner of the timeless look of Chanel, here in brown and white check rayon with collar, cuffs and lapels in white piquè that matches the buttoned top.

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Hat and coat-dress by Bergdorf Goodman, modelled by Estrella Boissevain' 1938

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Hat and coat-dress by Bergdorf Goodman, modelled by Estrella Boissevain
1938
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Corset by Detolle for Mainbocher' 1939

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Corset by Detolle for Mainbocher
1939
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P.Horst. 'Lisa with Turban, New York' 1940

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Lisa with Turban, New York
1940
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Gertrude Stein at Balmain Fashion Show' 1946

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Gertrude Stein at Balmain Fashion Show
1946
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Birthday Gloves, New York' 1947

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Birthday Gloves, New York
1947
© Condé Nast/Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Lillian Marcuson in Dior's belted two-piece suit in black rustic wool, called 'Milieu du Siècle'' 1949

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Lillian Marcuson in Dior’s belted two-piece suit in black rustic wool, called ‘Milieu du Siècle’
1949
© Condé Nast/Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Nina de Voe' 1951

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Nina de Voe
1951
© Condé Nast/Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Lillian Marcuson, New York' 1950

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Lillian Marcuson, New York
1950
© Condé Nast/Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Outfit by Tina Leser' Vogue, April 1950

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Outfit by Tina Leser
Vogue, April 1950
© Condé Nast/Horst Estate

 

Horst P.Horst. 'Bombay Bathing Fashion' 1950

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Bombay Bathing Fashion
1950
© Condé Nast/Horst Estate

 

 

Model (unidentified) and Dorian Leigh (r) in bathing suit and sleeveless shirt cover-up by Carolyn Schnurer 1951 Vogue

 

 

Haute Couture

When Horst joined Vogue in 1931, Paris was still the world’s undisputed centre of high fashion. Photography had begun to eclipse graphic illustration in fashion magazines and the publisher Condé Montrose Nast devoted large sums to improving the quality of image reproduction. He insisted that Vogue photographers work with a large format camera, which produced richly detailed negatives measuring ten by eight inches.

The creation of a Horst photograph was a collaborative process, involving the talents of the photographer and model, the art director, fashion editor, studio assistants and set technicians. The modelling profession was still in its infancy in the 1930s and many of those who posed under the hot studio lights were stylish friends of the magazine’s staff, often actresses or aristocrats.

By the mid 1930s, Horst had superseded his mentor George Hoyningen-Huene as Paris Vogue‘s primary photographer. His images frequently appeared in the French, British and American editions of the magazine. Many of the photographs on display in the exhibition are vintage prints from the company’s archive.

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Dress by Hattie Carnegie' 1939

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Dress by Hattie Carnegie
1939
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Dress by Hattie Carnegie' 1939

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Dress by Hattie Carnegie
1939
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Muriel Maxwell, American Vogue' 1939

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Muriel Maxwell, American Vogue
1939
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Summer Fashions, American Vogue cover' 1941

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Summer Fashions, American Vogue cover
1941
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Dinner suit and headdress by Schiaparelli' 1947

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Dinner suit and headdress by Schiaparelli
1947
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Millicent Rogers in a Charles James gown and a gold necklace of her own design' Vogue, February 1, 1949

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Millicent Rogers in a Charles James gown and a gold necklace of her own design
Vogue,
February 1, 1949
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst in Colour from Victoria and Albert Museum

 

This film reveals the process of creating new colour prints for the exhibition Horst: Photographer of Style. Horst was quick to master new colour processes, introduced in the late 1930s, and he created hundreds of vibrant fashion photographs for Vogue.

The V&A team worked closely with specialists at the Condé Nast Archive and expert printer Ken Allen to select and print from Horst’s early transparencies, which date from the 1930s to the 1950s. The film includes insights into Horst’s dynamic approach from model Carmen Dell’Orefice and Vogue‘s International Editor at Large, Hamish Bowles.​

 

Fashion in Colour

The 1930s ushered in huge technical advancements in colour photography. Horst adapted quickly to a new visual vocabulary, creating some of Vogue‘s most dazzling colour images. In 1935 he photographed the Russian Princess Nadejda Sherbatow in a red velveteen jacket for the first of his many Vogue cover pictures.

The occupation of Paris transformed the world of fashion. The majority of French ateliers closed and many couturiers and buyers left the country. Remaining businesses struggled with extreme shortages of cloth and other supplies. The scarcity of French fashions in America, however, enabled American designers to come into their own.

Horst’s colour photographs are rarely exhibited because few vintage prints exist. Colour capture took place on a transparency which could be reproduced on the magazine page without the need to create a photographic print. The size of the new prints displayed in this room of the exhibition echoes the large scale of a group of Horst images printed in 1938 at the Condé Nast press.

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Marlene Dietrich, New York' 1942

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Marlene Dietrich, New York
1942
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Gloria Vanderbilt age 17 wearing a dress by Howard Greer, New York' 1941

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Gloria Vanderbilt age 17 wearing a dress by Howard Greer, New York
1941
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

 

At 17, in Beverly Hills wearing a tabletop dress by Howard Greer. Tabletop dresses looked good from the waist up when stars were photographed sitting in restaurants and nightclub

 

 

Stage and Screen

Horst’s portraits spanned a wide cross-section of subjects, from artists and writers to presidents and royalty. In the 1930s, he became aware of a new focus for his work. As he later noted in his book Salute to the Thirties (1971), glamorous Hollywood movie stars were imperceptibly assuming the place left vacant by Europe’s vanishing royal families. With the approach of the Second World War, the escapism offered by theatre and cinema gained in popularity. Horst began to photograph these new, classless celebrities, both in costume and as themselves.

The first well-known star Horst photographed was the English performer Gertrude Lawrence, then appearing in Ronald Jeans’ play Can the Leopard…? at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. Horst’s first portrait of a Hollywood actress, Bette Davis, appeared in Vogue‘s sister magazine Vanity Fair in 1932.

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Round the Clock, New York' 1987

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Round the Clock, New York
1987
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

 

Platinum

The 1980s witnessed a flurry of new books, exhibitions and television documentaries about Horst. He produced new prints for museums and the collector’s market, selecting emblematic works from every decade of his career to be reprinted in platinum-palladium, sometimes with new titles. This was a complex and expensive technique, employing metals more expensive than gold. Failing eyesight finally forced him to stop working in 1992.

Horst’s platinum-palladium prints are treasured for their nuanced tones, surface quality and permanence. His style had experienced a renaissance in 1978 when Francine Crescent, French Vogue‘s editor in chief, had invited him to photograph the Paris collections. Horst’s work for her echoed his atmospheric, spot-lit studies of the 1930s. His use of the platinum process for creating new and reproducing early works ensured his mastery of light, mood and composition would be enjoyed by a new audience.

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Male Nude #3' 1952, printed 1980s

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Male Nude #3
1952, printed 1980s
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Still Life' Nd

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Still Life
Nd
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Male Nude' 1952

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Male Nude
1952
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

 

Male Nudes

In the early 1950s Horst produced a set of distinctive photographs unlike much of his previous output. These male figure studies were exhibited for the first time in Paris in 1953 and reprinted using the platinum-palladium process in the 1980s. The studies exemplify Horst’s sense of form. All emphasis is on the idealised human body, expressive light and shadow. Monumental and anonymous nudes resemble classical sculptures. As Mehemed Agha (1929-78), art director of American Vogue, commented:

“Horst takes the inert clay of human flesh and models it into the decorative shapes of his own devising. Every gesture of his models is planned, every line controlled and coordinated to the whole of the picture. Some gestures look natural and careless, because carefully rehearsed; the others, like Voltaire’s god, were invented by the artist because they did not exist.”

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Salvador Dali's costumes for Leonid Massine's ballet 'Bacchanale'' 1939

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Salvador Dali’s costumes for Leonid Massine’s ballet Bacchanale
1939
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Lisa Fonssagrives hands, New York' 1941

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Lisa Fonssagrives hands, New York
1941
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Odalisque I' 1943

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Odalisque I
1943
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P.Horst. 'Bunny Hartley' Vogue, 1938

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Bunny Hartley
Vogue,
1938
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Lisa Fonssagrives "I Love You"' 1937

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Lisa Fonssagrives “I Love You”
1937
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

 

Surrealism

The Surrealist art movement explored unique ways of interpreting the world, turning to dreams and the unconscious for inspiration. During the 1930s Surrealism escaped its radical avant-garde roots and transformed design, fashion, advertising, theatre and film. Horst’s photographs of this period feature mysterious, whimsical and surreal elements combined with his classical aesthetic. He created trompe l’oeil still life, photographed the surreal-infused dress designs of his friend Elsa Schiaparelli and collaborated with the artist Salvador Dalí. He shared with the Surrealists a fascination with the representation of the female body, often fragmenting and eroticising the human form in his images.

His most celebrated photograph of the era is Mainbocher Corset (1939). Decades after the photograph was made, Main Bocher himself expressed his admiration for Horst’s virtuosity, writing,

“Your photographs are sheer genius and delight my soul … each one is perfect by itself.”

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Patterns from Nature Photographic Collage' 1945

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Patterns from Nature Photographic Collage
1945
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

 

Patterns from Nature

Horst’s second book, Patterns from Nature (1946), and the photographs from which it originated, are a surprising diversion from the high glamour of his fashion and celebrity photographs. These close-up, black and white images of plants, shells and minerals were taken in New York’s Botanical Gardens, in the forests of New England, in Mexico, and along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

This personal project was partly inspired by photographs of plants by Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932). Horst was struck by “their revelation of the similarity of vegetable forms to art forms like wrought iron and Gothic architecture.” Horst’s interest was also linked to the technical purity of ‘photographic seeing’, a philosophy associated with the New Objectivity movement of the 1920s and ’30s. Practitioners took natural forms out of their contexts and examined them with such close attention that they became unfamiliar and revelatory.

 

Horst P. Horst. 'View of ruins at the palace of Persepolis, Persia' 1949

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
View of ruins at the palace of Persepolis, Persia
1949
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

 

Travel

In the summer of 1949, Horst journeyed to the Middle East with his partner Valentine Lawford, then political counsellor at the British Embassy in Tehran. They travelled by road from Beirut to Persepolis, where Horst was able to photograph parts of the ancient Persian city that had only recently been uncovered. Afterwards, Horst visited the newly established State of Israel on a photographic assignment for Vogue.

The trip left a strong impression on Horst and he returned in the spring of 1950. He spent a week with Lawford at the relatively remote south-eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, before documenting the annual migration of the Qashqa’i clan. Horst and Lawford were invited by Malik Mansur Khan Qashqa’i to spend ten days with his tribe as they travelled by camel and horse, in search of vegetation for their flocks.

 

Horst P. Horst. 'Yves Saint Laurent poses in the apartment's grand salon for a November 1971 'Vogue' photo spread' 1971

 

Horst P. Horst (German-American, 1906-1999)
Yves Saint Laurent poses in the apartment’s grand salon for a November 1971 ‘Vogue’ photo spread
1971
© Conde Nast / Horst Estate

 

 

Living in Style

In 1947 Horst acquired five acres of land in Oyster Bay Cove, Long Island, part of the estate once owned by the designer Louis Comfort Tiffany. On the land he described as ‘everything I had ever dreamed of’, Horst built a unique house and landscaped garden. British diplomat Valentine Lawford visited for the first time in 1947, with Noël Coward, Christopher Isherwood, and Greta Garbo. It was the beginning of a relationship with Horst that would last until Lawford’s death in 1991.

They welcomed many friends and visitors to Long Island, including the dynamic editor Diana Vreeland. She left Harper’s Bazaar for Vogue in 1962 and soon put the couple to work on Vogue‘s ‘Fashions in Living’ pages. The homes and tastes of everyone from Jackie Onassis to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Andy Warhol and Karl Lagerfeld featured in their articles. Horst’s creative chemistry with Vreeland brought him a new lease of life.

 

Roy Stevens. 'Horst directing fashion shoot with Lisa Fonssagrives' 15 May 1941

 

Roy Stevens (American, b. 1916)
Horst directing fashion shoot with Lisa Fonssagrives
15 May 1941
© Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images

 

 

In the Studio

During the 1940s Horst worked primarily in the Condé Nast studio on the 19th floor of the Graybar Building, an Art Deco skyscraper on Manhattan’s Lexington Avenue. The busy studio was well equipped with a variety of lights and props and Horst worked closely with talented art director Alexander Liberman. Like Horst, he had found refuge in the artistic circles of Paris and New York, and enjoyed a long career with Condé Nast.

By 1946 dressing the American woman had become one of the country’s largest industries, grossing over six billion dollars a year. The staff of Vogue expanded accordingly. In 1951 Horst found a studio of his own, the former penthouse apartment of artist Pavel Tchelitchew, with high ceilings and a spectacular view over the river. Horst developed a new approach to photography in response to the abundance of daylight and for a time his famous atmospheric shadows disappeared.

 

 

Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL

Opening hours:
The V&A is open daily from 10.00 to 17.45 and until 22.00 on Fridays

Victoria and Albert Museum website

Horst web page

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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