Posts Tagged ‘still life

16
Jul
17

Exhibition: ‘Irving Penn: Centennial’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Part 2

Exhibition dates: 24th April – 30th July 2017

 

'Irving Penn: Centennial' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

Irving Penn. The high priest of high modernist photography.

I know a lot of people adore his photography but I am not an acolyte, quietly accepting his elevation to sainthood in the high temple of art museums.

I find Penn’s aesthetic aesthetic, his performing photography if you like, unappealing. To me his work is more about the photographer than it is about the subject. His photographs, in whatever style – portraiture, nude, still life – seem cold and lifeless. Like a dead fish. There is little pleasure to be gained from looking at his photographs or the people in them. I find little celebration of photography in his work, as in, this is what the camera does at its best, a dialogue between photographer and subject.

Penn was a commercial photographer who had aspirations of being an artist. As Mark L. Power observes, “One of the characteristics of the Penn style was the expressive silhouette or outline around the figure, a sculptural delineation of form, at once beautiful and austere, whether his subject was a still life, a fashion model or a portrait.” My god did he love silhouette and shadow, usually played off against a plain backdrop.

There is that key word, play. There is no sense of spontaneity in his photographs, no sense of fun, no sense of an understanding of the aura of the subject.

I think of the portraits of August Sander or Richard Avedon’s series In the American West (the latter using a plain backdrop), both with their depth of vision and feeling for the people they were photographing … and then I look at the Cuzco portraits of Penn. I get nothing back about the lives of these people in Penn’s photographs. I think of the distorted nudes of Bill Brandt with their sensuality and sublime angles … and then I look at the nudes of Penn. They just don’t stack up, they feel clumsy, trite. I look at his colour still life, and I imagine the colour work of Paul Outerbridge, the absolute intensity of feeling that I can recall from Outerbridge’s still life in my mind’s eye. No such feeling exists in Penn’s still life.

If you watch the video of Penn at work in Morocco in 1971 (below), everything is controlled to within an inch of its life. A tilt of the head here, a raise of the chin there. This is a commercial studio photographer at work. As I said earlier, the work is not a celebration of photography but about the control of the photographer through the pose of the subject. Jammed into a wedge of scenery the sitters perform for his camera – Schiaparelli, Capote, Charles James et al – flaccid characters, almost caricatures in their positioning. Other than variants such as the intense eye of Pablo Picasso, or the blindness of Ingmar Bergman, I don’t believe that Penn was ever, will ever be, a great portraitist. He has no feeling for his sitters.

Of course, there is “the relationship of content to form – a relationship that underpins all art” at which Penn excels, but he is no Atget, Evans or Eggleston, where we are constantly surprised at where the photographer places the camera, how they place the frame, how they “form the starting point of the image’s visual structure,” how we wonder at the results, how we day dream the narrative. As Victor Burgin observes, “… what the world ‘is’ depends extensively upon how it is described: in a culture where the expression ‘old bag’ is in circulation to describe an ageing woman that is precisely what she is in perpetual danger of ‘being’.”

In Penn’s work the photograph and its representation is never in any danger of “becoming”, it already is. Penn’s “old bag” never changes. By repeating the same trope over and over – the formalist aesthetic, the silhouette, the plain back drop, the controlled pose – his work never evolves, never moves with an illusive quality to a place that the viewer does not feel they already know. The world of murky imperfection, uncertainty and ephemeral juxtapositions to which our mortal senses have access is replaced by a world of perfection and light in which everything has its predestined place.

Perhaps I just long for the fundamental contradictions of life in art, antinomies, options for now and the future.

Marcus

 

 

 

Irving Penn on Location in Morocco, 1971

This 8mm film footage, shot by Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn in 1971, shows Irving Penn at work in his portable studio on location in Morocco. Presented in conjunction with the exhibition “Irving Penn: Centennial,” on view at The Met Fifth Avenue from April 24 through July 30, 2017.

 

 

Irving Penn Centennial

A preview of the exhibition Irving Penn Centennial April 24 – July 30, 2017 at The Met, featuring Jeff Rosenheim, Curator in Charge, Photographs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Maria Morris Hambourg, Independent Curator and Former Curator in Charge, Photographs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

 

“As a way of beginning, one might compare the art of photography to the act of pointing. All of us, even the best-mannered of us, occasionally point, and it must be true that some of us point to more interesting facts, events, circumstances, and configurations than others. It is not difficult to imagine a person – a mute Virgil of the corporeal world – who might elevate the act of pointing to a creative plane, a person who would lead us through the fields and streets and indicate a sequence of phenomena and aspects that would be beautiful, humorous, morally instructive, cleverly ordered, mysterious, or astonishing, once brought to our attention, but that had been unseen before, or seen dumbly, without comprehension. This talented practitioner of the new discipline (the discipline a cross between theater and criticism) would perform with a special grace, sense of timing, narrative sweep, and wit, thus endowing the act not merely with intelligence, but with that quality of formal rigor that identifies a work of art, so that we would be uncertain, when remembering the adventure of the tour, how much of our pleasure and sense of enlargement had come from the things pointed to and how much from a pattern created by the pointer.”

.
John Szarkowski. “Atget, Pointing”

 

“The word classic is often used about Penn’s work; it entails a certain gravitas characterised by rigour almost to the point of aloofness, an awareness of beauty throughout many genres, a graphic elegance of line and contour that is uniquely his, and a relationship of his work to artists of the past, usually painters rather than photographers. Although it could be said his photography was an advertisement for a haut monde world, his work was sometimes a subtle and somewhat sly subversion of the values of that lifestyle.”

.
Mark L. Power. “Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty,” at Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, DC.

 

 

The most comprehensive retrospective to date of the work of the great American photographer Irving Penn (1917-2009), this exhibition will mark the centennial of the artist’s birth. Over the course of his nearly 70-year career, Penn mastered a pared-down aesthetic of studio photography that is distinguished for its meticulous attention to composition, nuance, and detail.

The exhibition follows the 2015 announcement of the landmark promised gift from The Irving Penn Foundation to The Met of more than 150 photographs by Penn, representing every period of the artist’s dynamic career with the camera. The gift will form the core of the exhibition, which will feature more than 200 photographs by Penn, including iconic fashion studies of Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn, the artist’s wife; exquisite still lifes; Quechua children in Cuzco, Peru; portraits of urban labourers; female nudes; tribesmen in New Guinea; and colour flower studies. The artist’s beloved portraits of cultural figures from Truman Capote, Picasso, and Colette to Ingmar Bergman and Issey Miyake will also be featured. Rounding out the exhibition will be photographs by Penn that entered The Met collection prior to the promised gift.

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Young Quechuan Man, Cuzco' December 1948, printed 1949

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Young Quechuan Man, Cuzco
December 1948, printed 1949
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 15/16 x 7 3/16 in. (20.1 x 18.2 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

 

In Cuzco, Penn photographed both residents and visitors who came to the city from nearby villages with goods to sell or barter at the Christmastime fiestas. Many arrived at the studio to sit for their annual family portraits. Penn later recalled that they “found me instead of him [the local photographer] waiting for them, and instead of paying me for the pictures it was I who paid them for posing.”

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Cuzco Children' December 1948, printed 1968

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Cuzco Children
December 1948, printed 1968
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 19 1/2 x 19 7/8 in. (49.5 x 50.5 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Two Men in White Masks, Cuzco' December 1948, printed 1984

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Two Men in White Masks, Cuzco
December 1948, printed 1984
Gelatin silver print
Image: 10 9/16 x 10 7/16 in. (26.8 x 26.5 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Cuzco Father and Son with Eggs' December 1948, printed January 1982

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Cuzco Father and Son with Eggs
December 1948, printed January 1982
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 11 3/4 x 11 5/16 in. (29.8 x 28.7 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Nude No. 18' 1949-50, printed 1949-50

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Nude No. 18
1949-50, printed 1949-50
Gelatin silver print
Image: 41 x 38.4 cm (16 1/8 x 15 1/8 in.)
Gift of the artist, 2002
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Nude No. 42' 1949-50, printed 1949-50

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Nude No. 42
1949-50, printed 1949-50
Gelatin silver print
Image: 39.1 x 37.5 cm (15 3/8 x 14 3/4 in.)
Gift of the artist, 2002
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Nude No. 57' 1949-50, printed 1949-50

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Nude No. 57
1949-50, printed 1949-50
Gelatin silver print
Image: 39.4 x 37.5 cm (15 1/2 x 14 3/4 in.)
Gift of the artist, 2002
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Nude No. 72' 1949-50, printed 1949-50

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Nude No. 72, New York
1949-50, printed 1949-50
Gelatin silver print
Image: 39.7 x 37.5 cm (15 5/8 x 14 3/4 in.)
Gift of the artist, 2002
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Nude No. 130' 1949-50, printed 1949-50

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Nude No. 130
1949-50, printed 1949-50
Gelatin silver print
Image: 40 x 38.1 cm (15 3/4 x 15 in.)
Gift of the artist, 2002
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Kerchief Glove (Dior), Paris' 1950, printed 1984

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Kerchief Glove (Dior), Paris
1950, printed 1984
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15 3/8 x 15 5/16 in. (39.1 x 38.9 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Balenciaga Sleeve (Régine Debrise), Paris' 1950

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Balenciaga Sleeve (Régine Debrise), Paris
1950
Gelatin silver print
Image: 10 3/16 x 10 7/16 in. (25.9 x 26.5 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

 

In general, daughters from nice families were not encouraged to be in-house models. “Being a studio model was viewed as preferable,” said Régine Debrise, who posed for the photographers Irving Penn and Henry Clarke before becoming an editor at French Vogue, “because the hours were contained and the conditions were better. Being in-house meant sharing the cabine, often a cramped room, with 10 other girls, and it lacked any kind of privacy.”

“Cabine fever: inside Dior’s fitting room,” on The Telegraph website

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Balenciaga Mantle Coat (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), Paris' 1950, printed 1988

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Balenciaga Mantle Coat (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), Paris
1950, printed 1988
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 21 15/16 x 17 5/8 in. (55.7 x 44.7 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

 

Lisa Fonssagrives (May 17, 1911 – February 4, 1992), born Lisa Birgitta Bernstone was a Swedish fashion model widely credited as the first supermodel.

Before Fonssagrives came to the United States in 1939, she was already a top model. Her image appeared on the cover of many magazines during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, including Town & Country, Life, Time, Vogue, and the original Vanity Fair. She was reported as “the highest paid, highest praised, high fashion model in the business”. Fonssagrives once described herself as a “good clothes hanger”.

She worked with fashion photographers including George Hoyningen-Huene, Man Ray, Horst, Erwin Blumenfeld, George Platt Lynes, Richard Avedon, and Edgar de Evia. She married Parisian photographer Fernand Fonssagrives in 1935; they divorced and she later married another photographer, Irving Penn, in 1950. She went on to become a sculptor in the 1960s and was represented by the Marlborough Gallery in Manhattan.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Woman with Roses (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn in Lafaurie Dress), Paris' 1950, printed 1968

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Woman with Roses (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn in Lafaurie Dress), Paris
1950, printed 1968
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 22 x 15 11/16 in. (55.9 x 39.9 cm
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast (Fr.)

 

 

Jeanne LaFaurie was a Paris couturiere working from 1925 until 1958. The house was known for dependable, if not spectacular, clothing and fine draping. Courreges worked there as a draftsman in 1947. Michel Goma became the house designer 1950 – 58, when he bought the house and renamed it. It closed in 1963.

Text from the Vintage Fashion Guild website

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Rochas Mermaid Dress (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), Paris' 1950

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Rochas Mermaid Dress (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), Paris
1950
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 19 7/8 x 19 11/16 in. (50.5 x 50 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

 

Rochas is a fashion, beauty, and perfume house founded in 1925 by French designer Marcel Rochas (born 1902, died 1955) the first designer of 2/3-length coats and skirts with pockets. “His designs could be seen as the polar opposite of Chanel’s simplicity. Dresses were proper gowns and came with the optimum amount of frills, with lace, wide shoulders and nipped-in waists.”

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Large Sleeve (Sunny Harnett), New York' 1951, printed 1984

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Large Sleeve (Sunny Harnett), New York
1951, printed 1984
Gelatin silver print
Image: 14 3/4 x 14 3/4 in. (37.5 x 37.5 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

 

Annemarie Margot “Sunny” Harnett (1924 – May 1987) was an American model in the 1950s and actress. She can be found in fashion magazines throughout that era – including frequently on the cover of Vogue – and was often a model of choice by photographer Edgar de Evia. Harper’s Bazaar ranks her as one of the 26 greatest models of all time.

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Marchand de Concombres [Cucumber Seller]' 1950, printed 1976

 

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Marchand de Concombres [Cucumber Seller]
1950, printed 1976
Platinum-palladium print
Purchase, The Lauder Foundation and The Irving Penn Foundation Gifts, 2014
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Marchande de Ballons, Paris' 1950, printed 1976

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Marchande de Ballons, Paris
1950, printed 1976
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 15 3/4 × 12 9/16 in. (40 × 31.9 cm)
Purchase, The Lauder Foundation and The Irving Penn Foundation Gifts, 2014
© Les Editions Condé Nast S. A.

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Window Washer' 1950, printed 1967

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Window Washer
1950, printed 1967
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 19 7/8 × 14 13/16 in. (50.5 × 37.6 cm)
Purchase, The Lauder Foundation and The Irving Penn Foundation Gifts, 2014
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Fishmonger, London' 1950, printed 1976

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Fishmonger, London
1950, printed 1976
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 19 11/16 × 14 13/16 in. (50 × 37.6 cm)
Purchase, The Lauder Foundation and The Irving Penn Foundation Gifts, 2014
© Condé Nast Publications Ltd.

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Pablo Picasso at La Californie, Cannes' 1957, printed February 1985

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Pablo Picasso at La Californie, Cannes
1957, printed February 1985
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 18 5/8 x 18 5/8 in. (47.3 x 47.3 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

 

When Penn arrived at Picasso’s house in the south of France, the artist pretended not to be home. But after Penn’s assistant climbed over the locked gate, Picasso granted the photographer ten minutes. Covering his sweat-shirt with a Spanish cape, Picasso tried to playfully deflect him. Variants of this image show how Penn patiently worked the pose, allowing the artist his costume play while progressively boring in to isolate the riveting gaze of his left eye.

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Ingmar Bergman, Stockholm, 1964' 1964, printed 1992

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Ingmar Bergman, Stockholm, 1964
1964, printed 1992
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15 1/16 x 14 15/16 in. (38.3 x 37.9 cm
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Single Oriental Poppy, New York' 1968, printed 1989

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Single Oriental Poppy, New York
1968, printed 1989
Dye transfer print
Image: 21 7/8 x 17 1/8 in. (55.5 x 43.5 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Naomi Sims in Scarf, New York, c. 1969' c. 1969, printed 1985

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Naomi Sims in Scarf, New York, c. 1969
c. 1969, printed 1985
Gelatin silver print
Image: 10 1/2 x 10 3/8 in. (26.6 x 26.3 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

 

Naomi Ruth Sims (March 30, 1948 – August 1, 2009) was an American model, businesswoman and author. She was the first African-American model to appear on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal, and is widely credited as being the first African-American supermodel. …

She became one of the first successful black models while still in her teens, and achieved worldwide recognition from the late 1960s into the early 1970s, appearing on the covers of prestigious fashion and popular magazines. The New York Times wrote that (her) “appearance as the first black model on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal in November 1968 was a consummate moment of the Black is Beautiful movement”. She also appeared on the cover of the October 17, 1969 issue of Life magazine. This made her the first African-American model on the cover of the magazine. The images from the 1967 New York Times fashion magazine cover and the 1969 Life magazine cover were exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in an exhibition entitled The Model as Muse.

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Ungaro Bride Body Sculpture (Marisa Berenson), Paris, 1969' 1969, printed 1985

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Ungaro Bride Body Sculpture (Marisa Berenson), Paris, 1969
1969, printed 1985
Gelatin silver print
Image: 11 15/16 x 9 5/16 in. (30.3 x 23.7 cm.) Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

 

Emanuel (Maffeolit) Ungaro (born 13 February 1933) is a retired French fashion designer, who founded the fashion house that bears his name in 1965. At the age of 22, he moved to Paris. Three years later he began designing for the House of Cristobal Balenciaga for three years before quitting to work for Courrèges. Four years later, in 1965 with the assistance of Swiss artist Sonja Knapp and Elena Bruna Fassio, Emanuel Ungaro opened his own fashion house in Paris.

Vittoria Marisa Schiaparelli Berenson (born February 15, 1947) is an American actress and model. A fashion model who came to prominence in the 1960s – “I once was one of the highest paid models in the world”, she told The New York Times – Berenson appeared on the cover of the July 1970 issue of Vogue as well as the cover of Time on December 15, 1975. She appeared in numerous fashion layouts in Vogue in the early 1970s and her sister Berry was a photographer for the magazine as well. She was known as “The Queen of the Scene” for her frequent appearances at nightclubs and other social venues in her youth, and Yves Saint Laurent dubbed her “the girl of the Seventies”.

Eventually, she was cast in several prominent film roles, including Gustav von Aschenbach’s wife in Luchino Visconti’s 1971 film Death in Venice, the Jewish department store heiress Natalia Landauer in the 1972 film Cabaret, for which she received acclaim (including two Golden Globe nominations, a BAFTA nomination and an award from the National Board of Review), and the tragic beauty Lady Lyndon in the Stanley Kubrick film Barry Lyndon (1975).

Texts from the Wikipedia website

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Three Asaro Mud Men, New Guinea, 1970' 1970, printed 1976

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Three Asaro Mud Men, New Guinea, 1970
1970, printed 1976
Platinum-palladium print
Dimensions:Image: 20 1/8 x 19 1/2 in. (51.1 x 49.6 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Three Dahomey Girls, One Reclining, 1967' 1967, printed 1980

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Three Dahomey Girls, One Reclining, 1967
1967, printed 1980
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 19 11/16 x 19 11/16 in. (50 x 50 cm.)Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Tribesman with Nose Disc, New Guinea, 1970' 1970, printed 2002

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Tribesman with Nose Disc, New Guinea, 1970
1970, printed 2002
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15 1/2 x 15 3/8 in. (39.4 x 39.1 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Cigarette No. 52, New York' 1972, printed April 1974

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Cigarette No. 52, New York
1972, printed April 1974
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 23 1/2 x 18 1/2 in. (59.7 x 47 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Cigarette No. 85, New York' 1972, printed Fall 1975

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Cigarette No. 85, New York
1972, printed Fall 1975
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 18 1/8 x 23 1/16 in. (46.0 x 58.5 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Cigarette No. 98, New York' 1972, printed June 1974

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Cigarette No. 98, New York
1972, printed June 1974
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 23 3/16 x 17 1/16 in. (58.9 x 43.3 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Deli Package, New York' 1975, printed March 1976

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Deli Package, New York
1975, printed March 1976
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 15 7/8 x 20 11/16 in. (40.3 x 52.5 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Two Miyake Warriors, New York, 1998' June 3, 1998, printed January-February, 1999

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Two Miyake Warriors, New York, 1998
June 3, 1998, printed January-February, 1999
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 21 x 19 5/8 in. (53.4 x 49.8 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

 

Issey Miyake (born 22 April 1938) is a Japanese fashion designer. He is known for his technology-driven clothing designs, exhibitions and fragrances…

In the late 1980s, he began to experiment with new methods of pleating that would allow both flexibility of movement for the wearer as well as ease of care and production. In which the garments are cut and sewn first, then sandwiched between layers of paper and fed into a heat press, where they are pleated. The fabric’s ‘memory’ holds the pleats and when the garments are liberated from their paper cocoon, they are ready-to wear. He did the costume for Ballett Frankfurt with pleats in a piece named “the Loss of Small Detail” choreographed by William Forsythe and also work on ballet “Garden in the setting”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

 

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12
Jul
17

Exhibition: ‘Irving Penn: Centennial’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Part 1

Exhibition dates: 24th April – 30th July 2017

Part 1 of this bumper posting, with some biographical information on the lesser known sitters. More to follow ~ Marcus

 

'Irving Penn: Centennial' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

The most comprehensive retrospective to date of the work of the great American photographer Irving Penn (1917-2009), this exhibition will mark the centennial of the artist’s birth. Over the course of his nearly 70-year career, Penn mastered a pared-down aesthetic of studio photography that is distinguished for its meticulous attention to composition, nuance, and detail.

The exhibition follows the 2015 announcement of the landmark promised gift from The Irving Penn Foundation to The Met of more than 150 photographs by Penn, representing every period of the artist’s dynamic career with the camera. The gift will form the core of the exhibition, which will feature more than 200 photographs by Penn, including iconic fashion studies of Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn, the artist’s wife; exquisite still lifes; Quechua children in Cuzco, Peru; portraits of urban labourers; female nudes; tribesmen in New Guinea; and colour flower studies. The artist’s beloved portraits of cultural figures from Truman Capote, Picasso, and Colette to Ingmar Bergman and Issey Miyake will also be featured. Rounding out the exhibition will be photographs by Penn that entered The Met collection prior to the promised gift.

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Union Bar Window, American South' 1941, printed c. 1941-42

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Union Bar Window, American South
1941, printed c. 1941-42
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 3/16 x 8 3/4 in. (18.2 x 22.3 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'O'Sullivan's Heels, New York' c. 1939

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
O’Sullivan’s Heels, New York
c. 1939
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 x 9 3/8 in. (22.9 x 23.8 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Pulquería Decoration, Mexico' 1942

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Pulquería Decoration, Mexico
1942
Gelatin silver print
Image: 11 7/8 x 10 9/16 in. (30.2 x 26.8 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Le Corbusier, New York' 1947

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Le Corbusier, New York
1947
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 15/16 x 7 15/16 in. (25.3 x 20.2 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917–2009 New York) 'Elsa Schiaparelli, New York' March 29, 1948, printed c. 1948

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Elsa Schiaparelli, New York
March 29, 1948, printed c. 1948
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 7/8 x 7 7/8 in. (25.1 x 20 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Charles James, New York' February 28, 1948, printed June 2002

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Charles James, New York
February 28, 1948, printed June 2002
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 15/16 x 7 15/16 in. (25.3 x 20.1 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

 

Charles Wilson Brega James (18 July 1906 – 23 September 1978) was a British-born fashion designer known as “America’s First Couturier”. He is widely considered to have been a master of cutting and is known for his highly structured aesthetic. …

James looked upon his dresses as works of art, as did many of his customers. Year after year, he reworked original designs, ignoring the sacrosanct schedule of seasons. The components of the precisely constructed designs were interchangeable, so that James had a never-ending fund of ideas on which to draw. He is most famous for his sculpted ball gowns made of lavish fabrics and to exacting tailoring standards, but is also remembered for his capes and coats, often trimmed with fur and embroidery, and his spiral zipped dresses. He is also famed for a unique, one of a kind white satin quilted jacket made in 1938 and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, described as the starting point for “anoraks, space man and even fur jackets”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Ballet Society, New York [Tanaquil Le Clercq with Corrado Cagli, Vittorio Rieti, and George Balanchine]' March 5, 1948, printed November 1976

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Ballet Society, New York [Tanaquil Le Clercq with Corrado Cagli, Vittorio Rieti, and George Balanchine]
March 5, 1948, printed November 1976
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 22 3/4 x 18 3/8 in. (57.8 x 46.7 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

 

Tanaquil Le Clercq (October 2, 1929 – December 31, 2000) was a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. Her dancing career ended abruptly when she was stricken with polio in Copenhagen during the company’s European tour in 1956. Eventually regaining most of the use of her arms and torso, she remained paralysed from the waist down for the rest of her life. …

When she was fifteen years old, George Balanchine asked her to perform with him in a dance he choreographed for a polio charity benefit. In an eerie portent of things to come, he played a character named Polio, and Le Clercq was his victim who became paralysed and fell to the floor. Then, children tossed dimes at her character, prompting her to get up and dance again.

Corrado Cagli (Ancona, 1910 – Rome, 1976) was an Italian painter of Jewish heritage, who lived in the United States during World War II. …

He enlisted in the U.S. Army and was involved in the 1944 Normandy landings, and fought in Belgium and Germany. He was with the forces that liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp, and made a series of dramatic drawings on that subject. In 1948, Cagli returned to Rome to take up permanent residence there. From that time forward, he experimented in various abstract and non-figurative techniques (neo-metaphysical, neo-cubist, informal). He was awarded the Guggenheim prize (1946) and the Marzotto prize (1954).

Vittorio Rieti (January 28, 1898 – February 19, 1994) was a Jewish-Italian composer. Born in Alexandria, Egypt, Rieti moved to Milan to study economics. He subsequently studied in Rome under Respighi and Casella, and lived there until 1940. … He emigrated to the United States in 1940, becoming a naturalised American citizen on the 1st of June 1944. He taught at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore (1948-49), Chicago Musical College (1950-54), Queens College, New York (1958-60), and New York College of Music (1960-64).

George Balanchine (January 22 [O.S. January 9] 1904 – April 30, 1983) was a choreographer. Styled as the father of American ballet, he co-founded the New York City Ballet and remained its Artistic Director for more than 35 years.

Balanchine took the standards and technique from his time at the Imperial Ballet School and fused it with other schools of movement that he had adopted during his tenure on Broadway and in Hollywood, creating his signature “neoclassical style”. He was a choreographer known for his musicality; he expressed music with dance and worked extensively with leading composers of his time like Igor Stravinsky. Balanchine was invited to America in 1933 by a young arts patron named Lincoln Kirstein, and together they founded the School of American Ballet. Along with Kirstein, Balanchine also co-founded the New York City Ballet (NYCB).

All texts from the Wikipedia website

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Truman Capote, New York' March 5, 1948

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Truman Capote, New York
March 5, 1948
Gelatin silver print
Image: 10 1/16 x 8 3/16 in. (25.5 x 20.8 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art will present a major retrospective of the photographs of Irving Penn to mark the centennial of the artist’s birth. Over the course of his nearly 70-year career, Irving Penn (1917-2009) mastered a pared-down aesthetic of studio photography that is distinguished for its meticulous attention to composition, nuance, detail, and printmaking. Irving Penn: Centennial, opening April 24, 2017, will be the most comprehensive exhibition of the great American photographer’s work to date and will include both masterpieces and hitherto unknown prints from all his major series.

Long celebrated for more than six decades of influential work at Vogue magazine, Penn was first and foremost a fashion photographer. His early photographs of couture are masterpieces that established a new standard for photographic renderings of style at mid-century, and he continued to record the cycles of fashions year after year in exquisite images characterised by striking shapes and formal brilliance. His rigorous modern compositions, minimal backgrounds, and diffused lighting were innovative and immensely influential. Yet Penn’s photographs of fashion are merely the most salient of his specialties. He was a peerless portraitist, whose perceptions extended beyond the human face and figure to take in more complete codes of demeanour, adornment, and artefact. He was also blessed with an acute graphic intelligence and a sculptor’s sensitivity to volumes in light, talents that served his superb nude studies and life-long explorations of still life.

Penn dealt with so many subjects throughout his long career that he is conventionally seen either with a single lens – as the portraitist, fashion photographer, or still life virtuoso – or as the master of all trades, the jeweller of journalists who could fine-tool anything. The exhibition at The Met will chart a different course, mapping the overall geography of the work and the relative importance of the subjects and campaigns the artist explored most creatively. Its organisation largely follows the pattern of his development so that the structure of the work, its internal coherence, and the tenor of the times of the artist’s experience all become evident.

The exhibition will most thoroughly explore the following series: street signs, including examples of early work in New York, the American South, and Mexico; fashion and style, with many classic photographs of Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn, the former dancer who became the first supermodel as well as the artist’s wife; portraits of indigenous people in Cuzco, Peru; the Small Trades portraits of urban labourers; portraits of beloved cultural figures from Truman Capote, Joe Louis, Picasso, and Colette to Alvin Ailey, Ingmar Bergman, and Joan Didion; the infamous cigarette still lifes; portraits of the fabulously dressed citizens of Dahomey (Benin), New Guinea, and Morocco; the late “Morandi” still lifes; voluptuous nudes; and glorious colour studies of flowers. These subjects chart the artist’s path through the demands of the cultural journal, the changes in fashion itself and in editorial approach, the fortunes of the picture press in the age of television, the requirements of an artistic inner voice in a commercial world, the moral condition of the American conscience during the Vietnam War era, the growth of photography as a fine art in the 1970s and 1980s, and personal intimations of mortality. All these strands of meaning are embedded in the images – a web of deep and complex ideas belied by the seeming forthrightness of what is represented.

Penn generally worked in a studio or in a traveling tent that served the same purpose, and favoured a simple background of white or light grey tones. His preferred backdrop was made from an old theatre curtain found in Paris that had been softly painted with diffused grey clouds. This backdrop followed Penn from studio to studio; a companion of over 60 years, it will be displayed in one of the Museum’s galleries among celebrated portraits it helped create. Other highlights of the exhibition include newly unearthed footage of the photographer at work in his tent in Morocco; issues of Vogue magazine illustrating the original use of the photographs and, in some cases, to demonstrate the difference between those brilliantly coloured, journalistic presentations and Penn’s later reconsidered reuse of the imagery; and several of Penn’s drawings shown near similar still life photographs.

 

Exhibition credits

Irving Penn: Centennial is co-curated by Maria Morris Hambourg, independent curator and the founding curator of The Met’s Department of Photographs, and Jeff L. Rosenheim, Joyce Frank Menschel Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs at The Met.

Press release from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Glove and Shoe, New York' July 7, 1947

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Glove and Shoe, New York
July 7, 1947
Gelatin silver print
Image: 9 9/16 x 7 3/4 in. (24.3 x 19.7 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) The 'Tarot Reader (Bridget Tichenor and Jean Patchett), New York' 1949, printed 1984

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
The Tarot Reader (Bridget Tichenor and Jean Patchett), New York
1949, printed 1984
Gelatin silver print
Image: 19 5/16 x 18 1/2 in. (49 x 47 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

 

Bridget Bate Tichenor (born Bridget Pamela Arkwright Bate on November 22, 1917 – died on October 20, 1990), also known as Bridget Tichenor or B.B.T., was a Mexican surrealist painter of fantastic art in the school of magic realism and a fashion editor. Born in Paris and of British descent, she later embraced Mexico as her home. …

Bate Tichenor’s painting technique was based upon 16th-century Italian tempera formulas that artist Paul Cadmus taught her in New York in 1945, where she would prepare an eggshell-finished gesso ground on masonite board and apply (instead of tempera) multiple transparent oil glazes defined through chiaroscuro with sometimes one hair of a #00 sable brush. Bate Tichenor considered her work to be of a spiritual nature, reflecting ancient occult religions, magic, alchemy, and Mesoamerican mythology in her Italian Renaissance style of painting.

The cultures of Mesoamerica and her international background would influence the style and themes of Bate Tichenor’s work as a magic realist painter in Mexico. She was among a group of surrealist and magic realist female artists who came to live in Mexico in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Jean Patchett (February 16, 1926 – January 22, 2002) was a leading fashion model of the late 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s. She was among the best known models of that era, which included Dovima, Dorian Leigh, Suzy Parker, Evelyn Tripp and Lisa Fonssagrives. Patchett was the subject of two of Vogue Magazine’s most famous covers, both shot in 1950 by Erwin Blumenfeld and Irving Penn. She was famous for being one of the first high-fashion models to appear remote; previously, models had appeared warm and friendly. Irving Penn described her as “a young American goddess in Paris couture”.

Texts from the Wikipedia website

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'The Twelve Most Photographed Models, New York' 1947

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
The Twelve Most Photographed Models, New York
1947
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 3/8 x 16 15/16 in. (34 x 43 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Girl Drinking (Mary Jane Russell), New York' 1949, printed December 1977

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Girl Drinking (Mary Jane Russell), New York
1949, printed December 1977
Platinum-palladium print
Image: 20 1/2 x 19 1/4 in. (52.1 x 48.9 cm.)
Loan from The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

 

Mary Jane Russell (10 July 1926 – 2003) was a successful New York-based American photographic fashion model between 1948 and 1961. She often worked with Louise Dahl-Wolfe and Irving Penn, and appeared on many covers for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar during the course of her modelling career. …

Russell was … a favourite model of Irving Penn, who remembered her qualities of concentration and tenderness. Two of Penn’s better known images of her were Girl Drinking, published in Vogue in 1949, and the 1951 photograph Girl with Tobacco on Tongue. As Russell did not smoke, the process of taking the latter photograph made her physically sick.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Marlene Dietrich, New York' November 3, 1948, printed April 2000

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Marlene Dietrich, New York
November 3, 1948, printed April 2000
Gelatin silver print
Image: 10 x 8 1/16 in. (25.4 x 20.4 cm.) Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© The Irving Penn Foundation

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Theatre Accident, New York' 1947, printed 1984

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Theatre Accident, New York
1947, printed 1984
Dye transfer print
Image: 19 1/2 x 15 1/4 in. (49.6 x 38.8 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Still Life with Watermelon, New York' 1947, printed 1985

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Still Life with Watermelon, New York
1947, printed 1985
Dye transfer print
Image: 22 x 17 1/2 in. (55.9 x 44.5 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'Salad Ingredients, New York' 1947, printed 1984

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
Salad Ingredients, New York
1947, printed 1984
Dye transfer print
Image: 19 7/16 x 15 3/16 in. (49.3 x 38.6 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York) 'After-Dinner Games, New York' 1947, printed 1985

 

Irving Penn (American, Plainfield, New Jersey 1917-2009 New York)
After-Dinner Games, New York
1947, printed 1985
Dye transfer print
Image: 22 3/16 x 18 1/16 in. (56.4 x 45.8 cm)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation
© Condé Nast

 

 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street
New York, New York 10028-0198
Phone: 212-535-7710

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Thursday: 9.30 am – 5.30 pm*
Friday and Saturday: 9.30 am – 9.00 pm*
Sunday: 9.30 am – 5.30 pm*
Closed Monday (except Met Holiday Mondays**), Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day

The Metropolitan Museum of Art website

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07
May
17

Exhibition: ‘The Unsettled Lens’ at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art

Exhibition dates: 18th February – 14th May 2017

 

Not a great selection of media images… I would have liked to have seen more photographs from what is an interesting premise for an exhibition: the idea of the uncanny as a sense of displacement, as a difficulty in reconciling the familiar with the unknown.

The three haunting – to haunt, to be persistently and disturbingly present in (the mind) – images by Wyn Bullock are my favourites in the posting.

Marcus

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

 

 

Since the early twentieth-century, photographers have crafted images that hinge on the idea of the uncanny, a psychological phenomenon existing, according to psychoanalysis, at the intersection between the reassuring and the threatening, the familiar and the new. The photographs in this exhibition build subtle tensions based on the idea of the uncanny as a sense of displacement, as a difficulty in reconciling the familiar with the unknown. By converting nature into unrecognisable abstract impressions of reality, by intruding on moments of intimacy, by weaving enigmatic narratives, and by challenging notions of time and memory, these images elicit unsettling sensations and challenge our intellectual mastery of the new. This exhibition showcases new acquisitions in photography and photographs from the permanent collection, stretching from the early twentieth-century to the year 2000.

 

 

Edward J. Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879-1973) 'Moonrise, Mamaroneck, New York' 1904, printed 1981

 

Edward J. Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879-1973)
Moonrise, Mamaroneck, New York
1904, printed 1981
Photogravure
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Museum purchase with funds provided by Ms. Frances Kerr

 

William A. Garnett. 'Sand Bars, Colorado River, Near Needles, California' 1954

 

William A. Garnett (1916-2006)
Sand Bars, Colorado River, Near Needles, California
1954
Silver gelatin print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art

 

Elliott Erwitt (American, born France 1928) 'Cracked Glass with Boy, Colorado' 1955, printed 1980

 

Elliott Erwitt (American, born France 1928)
Cracked Glass with Boy, Colorado
1955, printed 1980
Gelatin silver print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Gift of Raymond W. Merritt

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Navigation Without Numbers' 1957

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Navigation Without Numbers
1957
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas V. Duncan

 

 

In “Navigation Without Numbers,” photographer Wynn Bullock comments on life’s dualities and contradictions through imagery and textures: the soft, inviting bed and the rough, rugged walls; the bond of mother and child, and the exhaustion and isolation of motherhood; and the illuminated bodies set against the surrounding darkness. The book on the right shelf is a 1956 guide on how to pilot a ship without using mathematics. Its title, Navigation Without Numbers, recalls the hardship and confusion of navigating through the dark, disorienting waters of early motherhood.

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902–1975) 'Child in Forest' 1951

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Child in Forest
1951
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas V. Duncan

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975) 'Child on Forest Road' 1958, printed 1973

 

Wynn Bullock (American, 1902-1975)
Child on Forest Road
1958, printed 1973
Gelatin silver print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Lent by Mr. and Mrs. Nicholas V. Duncan

 

 

“Child on Forest Road,” which features the artist’s daughter, brings together a series of dualities or oppositions in a single image: ancient forest and young child, soft flesh and rough wood, darkness and light, safe haven and vulnerability, communion with nature and seclusion. In so doing, Bullock reflects on his own attempt to relate to nature and to the strange world implied by Einstein’s newly theorized structure of the universe.

 

Ruth Bernhard (American, born Germany, 1905-2006) 'In the Box - Horizontal' 1962

 

Ruth Bernhard (American, born Germany, 1905-2006)
In the Box – Horizontal
1962
Gelatin silver print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Museum purchase

 

Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993) 'Untitled [dead bird and sand]' 1967

 

Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
Untitled (dead bird and sand)
1967
Gelatin silver print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Gift of the Christian Keesee Collection

 

Edward J. Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879-1973) 'Balzac, The Open Sky - 11 P.M.' 1908

 

Edward J. Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879-1973)
Balzac, The Open Sky – 11 P.M.
1908
Photogravure
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Museum purchase with funds provided by Ms. Frances Kerr

 

 

Edward Steichen, who shared similar artistic ambitions with Symbolist sculptor, Auguste Rodin, presented Rodin’s Balzac as barely decipherable and as an ominous silhouette in the shadows. In Steichen’s photograph, Balzac is a pensive man contemplating human nature and tragedy, a “Christ walking in the desert,” as Rodin himself admiringly described it. Both Rodin and Steichen chose Balzac as their subject due to the French writer’s similar interest in psychological introspection.

 

Ralph Gibson (American, b. 1939) 'Untitled (Woman with statue)' 1974, printed 1981

 

Ralph Gibson (American, b. 1939)
Untitled (Woman with statue)
1974, printed 1981
Gelatin silver print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Gift of Carol and Ray Merritt

 

William A. Garnett (1916-2006) 'Two Trees on Hill with Shadow, Paso Robles, CA' 1974

 

William A. Garnett (1916-2006)
Two Trees on Hill with Shadow, Paso Robles, CA
1974
Silver gelatin print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art

 

Thomas Harding (American, 1911-2002) 'Barbed Wire and Tree' 1987

 

Thomas Harding (American, 1911-2002)
Barbed Wire and Tree
1987
Platinum print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Museum purchase with funds provided by Mr. Jack Coleman

 

Zeke Berman (American, b. 1951) 'Untitled (Web 2)' 1988

 

Zeke Berman (American, b. 1951)
Untitled (Web 2)
1988
Gelatin silver print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Museum purchase

 

 

In “Untitled,” New York sculptor and photographer Zeke Berman sets up a still life in the Dutch tradition – the artist presents a plane in foreshortened perspective, sumptuous fabric, and carefully balanced objects – only to dismantle it, and reduce it to a semi-abandoned stage. Spider webs act as memento mori (visual reminders of the finitude of life), while the objects, seemingly unrelated to each other and peculiarly positioned, function as deliberately enigmatic signs.

 

Stan Douglas (Canadian, b. 1960) 'Roof of the Ruskin Plant' 1992

 

Stan Douglas (Canadian, b. 1960)
Roof of the Ruskin Plant
1992
Chromogenic print
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Gift of the Christian Keesee Collection

 

 

Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK 73102

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm
Thursday: 10 am – 9 pm
Sunday: noon – 5 pm
Closed: Monday and Major Holidays

Oklahoma City Museum of Art website

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02
Aug
15

Exhibition: ‘Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great’ at NGV International, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 31st July – 8th November 2015

 

A scintillating exhibition at NGV International which showcases one of the world’s greatest art collections. Exhibition design is outstanding (particularly the floor tiling), as are the Da Vinci, Titian, Rembrandt, van Dyck, Rubens and Flemish still life. Among my favourites is a small Watteau Savoyard with a Marmot (1716) which is absolutely still, delicate and exquisite: I thought of the photographs of Atget, his street sellers, when I saw this painting; and Frans Snyders’ tour-de-force Concert of birds (1630-40) which has such presence.

Well done to the curators, the Hermitage Museum and the NGV for staging such a magnificent exhibition.

Marcus

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

All photographs © Dr Marcus Bunyan and the National Gallery of Victoria.

 

 

Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great showcases one of the world’s greatest art collections. Featuring works by artists including Rembrandt, Rubens, Velázquez and Van Dyck, the exhibition offers a dazzling array of works including the finest group of Dutch and Flemish art to come to Australia.

This exclusive Melbourne exhibition will also highlight the innovation and vision of Catherine the Great, whose inexhaustible passion for education, the arts and culture heralded a period of enlightenment in the region. The extraordinary works sourced and commissioned by Catherine during her thirty-four year reign, created the foundations for the Hermitage today – considered to be one of the world’s greatest treasure houses of art and decorative arts. The exhibition will offer audiences an immersive experience, recreating the rich atmosphere of the Hermitage to showcase these exquisite works.

German-born Catherine the Great (Catherine II) came to power in 1762, aged thirty-three, and ruled Russia for the next thirty-four years, until her death in 1796. She saw herself as a Philosopher Queen, a new kind of ruler in the Age of Enlightenment. Guided by Europe’s leading intellectuals, she modernised Russia’s economy, industry and government, drawing inspiration both from Antiquity and contemporary cultural and political developments in Western Europe. A fluent speaker of Russian, French and German, Catherine was largely self-educated, independent, idealistic and visionary.

While her reign was not always peaceful, Catherine sought to bring order, stability and prosperity to the vast Russian Empire. Her ideals of abolishing serfdom and ensuring the equality of all citizens under the law were ahead of her time, and strongly resisted by the nobility of the day; however, she achieved numerous other reforms, including the introduction of paper money and modernisation of Russia’s education system. French philosopher Denis Diderot, who visited St Petersburg in 1773, described an audience with Catherine as being ‘more like study than anything else: she is a stranger to no subject; there is no man in the Empire who knows her nation as well as she’.

 

Room 1 Catherine the collector

Between 1762 and 1796, the years of her reign, Catherine the Great oversaw a period of cultural renaissance in Russia. The world of ideas in which she was deeply involved from an early age found tangible expression in the material world the Empress later created around herself. The great complexes of imperial buildings Catherine constructed reflected her informed interest in both Classical and Chinese culture.

Catherine not only assembled a collection of Old Master paintings equal in scale and quality to leading European collections, but also paid considerable attention to the acquisition of contemporary art. While the richness and technical perfection of her diverse collections of decorative arts aimed to dazzle and please, they also had the more practical purpose of raising standards of artistic production in Russia. The fact that more than 400 exemplary works of art from her personal collection, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, porcelain, silver and precious gems, are seen here for the first time in Australia is cause for celebration.

 

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' featuring Alexander Roslin (Swedish 1718–93) 'Portrait of Catherine II' 1776–77

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' featuring Alexander Roslin (Swedish 1718–93) 'Portrait of Catherine II' 1776–77

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' featuring Alexander Roslin (Swedish 1718–93) 'Portrait of Catherine II' 1776–77

 

Installation views of room 1 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Alexander Roslin (Swedish 1718-93) Portrait of Catherine II 1776-77

 

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Sèvres Cameo Service

The Sèvres Cameo Service relates to Catherine’s great passion for collecting engraved gemstones. Comprising 797 individual pieces designed to serve dinner, dessert and coffee to sixty people, the Cameo Service was commissioned from the celebrated Sèvres porcelain manufactory outside Paris as a present for Catherine’s court ‘favourite’, Prince Grigory Potemkin. The Empress’s monogram, ‘E II’ (the Russian version of her name being Ekaterina), woven from garlands of flowers and surmounted by a crown, adorned almost every object in the service.

Production of the service was both time consuming and labour-intensive. The exquisite blue element alone – made from separate layers of copper enamel that gradually seeped into the porcelain and set the pure colour – required five firings. In addition to the hundreds of porcelain objects decorated with painted and sculpted cameos and related silverware, the service also included grand central table decorations fashioned from biscuit, or unglazed cream-coloured porcelain, by the sculptor Louis-Simon Boizot. These decorations illustrated tales from Greek mythology, and were presided over by a grand biscuit statue of Catherine the Great as Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and the arts.

 

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 1 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 1 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Exhibition passageway

Installation view of passageway video of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation view of passageway video of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne

 

 

Room 2 Italian art

When Catherine the Great began collecting European art, opportunities to acquire fine Italian Old Master paintings were already severely limited. Demand from wealthy collectors was high and the marketplace was saturated with misattributed works, some of which inevitably made their way to the Hermitage and other great collections.

Despite this, Catherine achieved great success collecting sixteenth and seventeenth century paintings, particularly from Venice, including great paintings by Titian, Paris Bordone and the enigmatic Lorenzo Lotto. These are complemented by fine examples of Roman and Florentine paintings, such as the famous Female nude (Donna nuda), by an artist very close to Leonardo da Vinci. This select group of paintings beautifully illustrate developments in figurative art, portraiture and religious art in Italy from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century.

In the early years of her reign, Catherine the Great acquired en masse several large collections of drawings representing all the main European schools. This set the foundations for the current Hermitage Museum’s outstanding Cabinet of Drawings. In terms of quality, Catherine’s acquisitions of Italian drawings were of the highest standard. The majority of these date from the mid sixteenth to late eighteenth centuries and include many rare and precious works.

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Domenico Fetti (Italian 1589-1623) 'Portrait of an actor' 1620s

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Domenico Fetti (Italian 1589-1623) Portrait of an actor 1620s

 

Domenico Fetti (Italian 1589-1623) 'Portrait of an actor' 1620s

 

Domenico Fetti (Italian 1589-1623)
Portrait of an actor
1620s
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

 

Domenico Fetti was court painter to Gerdinand II Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, when he made this striking portrait of an actor. It is though to be Tristano Martinelli who made his fame working in the commedia dell’arte tradition. It is believe that Marinelli created and popularised the standard roll of the Harlequin in theatre. Fetti himself was involved with the theatre in both Mantua and Venice.

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Paris Bordone (Italian 1500-71) 'Portrait of a lady with a boy' Mid 1530s

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Paris Bordone (Italian 1500-71) Portrait of a lady with a boy Mid 1530s

 

Paris Bordone (Italian 1500-71) 'Portrait of a lady with a boy' Mid 1530s

 

Paris Bordone (Italian 1500-71)
Portrait of a lady with a boy
Mid 1530s
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

 

This work by Venetian artist Paris Bordone is a typical example of formal Renaissance portraiture. Bordone’s main aim was to show the high social standing of the sitters, so he painted their luxurious costumes in great detail. He draws our attention to the sumptuous sleeves of this woman’s dress, he headgear resembling a turban, as well as her opulent jewellery. Bordone was one of Titian’s most talented pupils whose work is characterised by a level of precision not often present in his master’s work. This painting entered the Hermitage as a work by Giorgione.

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne featuring to the left, Domenico Capriolo (Italian c. 1494-1528) 'Portrait of a young man' 1512 and to the right, Lorenzo Lotto (Italian c. 1480-1556) 'The Rest on the Flight into Egypt with Saint Justine' 1529-30

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne featuring to the left, Domenico Capriolo (Italian c. 1494-1528) Portrait of a young man 1512 and to the right, Lorenzo Lotto (Italian c. 1480-1556) The Rest on the Flight into Egypt with Saint Justine 1529-30

 

Portrait of a young man by the Venetian master Domenico Capriolo captures the intellectual values of Renaissance art. Everything that surrounds this youth speaks of his interests, such as the church that indicates his piety; the statue of Venus that reveals his passion for Antiquity; and the folder (containing verses or drawings) that illustrates the richness of his inner world. The painting is dated 1512 and the artist’s name symbolised by a medallion containing a Capreolus, or deer, which is a play on his name. Such allusions were common in Renaissance art and would have been readily understood by his contemporaries.

 

Lorenzo Lotto (Italian c. 1480-1556) 'The Rest on the Flight into Egypt with Saint Justine' 1529-30

Lorenzo Lotto (Italian c. 1480-1556) 'The Rest on the Flight into Egypt with Saint Justine' 1529-30

 

Lorenzo Lotto (Italian c. 1480-1556)
The Rest on the Flight into Egypt with Saint Justine
1529-30
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

 

Lorenzo Lotto is a much admired sixteenth-century Venetian artist. The Rest on the Flight into Egypt with Saint Justine has the typical dynamism of Lotto’s work, achieved not only through the poses, gestures and movement of the foliage, but also through his intense colour palette and the juxtaposition of resonant blues with red and yellow tones. Here, the Holy Family has been joined by Saint Justine of Padua, martyred in 304 AD, identifiable through her attribute of a sword piercing her breast. Justine was a very popular subject for artists of Northern Italy.

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Leonardo da Vinci (school of) 'Female nude (Donna Nuda)' Early 16th century

 

Installation view of room 2 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Leonardo da Vinci (school of) Female nude (Donna Nuda) Early 16th century

 

Leonardo da Vinci (school of) 'Female nude (Donna Nuda)' Early 16th century

 

Leonardo da Vinci (school of)
Female nude (Donna Nuda)
Early 16th century
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

 

This painting entered the Hermitage collection as a work by Leonardo da Vinci, but is now widely accepted to be by one of his close followers, possibly his pupil Salai. Perhaps more important is that it may be a close copy of a lost painting by Leonardo. Female nude (Donna Nuda) also shares some of the qualities of the famous Mona Lisa c. 1503-19, in the Louvre Museum, Paris; namely the repetition of the pose, the position of the hands and the landscape setting seen behind a stone ledge in front of which the figure is set. This is the most refined of numerous variants of this composition in existence.

 

 

Room 3 Flemish art

In the seventeenth century, Flanders comprised the Catholic-dominated Southern Netherlands or ‘Spanish’ Austrian Netherlands, an area larger than modern Belgium. Thanks in large part to the talents of artist Peter Paul Rubens, the Flanders or ‘Flemish’ school in this era became very prestigious. While chiefly a painter, Rubens had far-reaching stylistic influence on many visual art forms, from prints to silverware and architecture. Every leading artist of seventeenth-century Flanders studied in, passed through or was connected with Rubens’s studio.

A diplomat and court insider, Rubens operated on an international stage. His art was correspondingly monumental; characterised by large forms modelled with loose brushstrokes in glowing, brilliant colours. Rubens’s pupil Anthony van Dyck and collaborator Cornelis de Vos led the way in bringing new naturalism to portraiture. While they catered to different markets (van Dyck to the nobility and de Vos to a rich merchant class) their mutual influence is apparent.

Flanders was a nation built on trade, and Flemish artists travelled widely, especially to Italy. From Italy they brought back new pictorial trends, such as the theatrical naturalism of Caravaggio. Flemish artists excelled in naturalistic effects, which they applied even to traditionally humble subjects, such as still lifes and animal pictures, seen to brilliant effect in the art of Frans Snyders and David Teniers II.

 

Installation view of room 3 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 3 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 3 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 3 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

room-three-installation-e

 

Installation views of room 3 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne featuring Peter Paul Rubens and workshop (Flemish 1577-1640) The Adoration of the Magi, c. 1620 at centre

 

Rubens painted the subject of the Adoration of the Magi (Matthew 2:1) more often than any other episode from Christ’s life. Rendered at life-sized scale, this painting combines the humility of Christ’s birth with splendid, worldly pageantry. Three Kings from the East are shown crowding into Christ’s stable (portrayed as a cave, in an allusion to Christ’s later interment) wearing gold- embroidered silks and satins, and offering gifts. The eldest king, Caspar, kneels before Christ with gold; behind him is Melchior, with frankincense; and Balthazar with myrrh, used for embalming. With the help of his studio, Rubens produced more than sixty altarpieces during his career.

 

Installation view of room 3 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 3 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 3 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish 1577–1640) 'Roman Charity (Cimon and Pero)' c. 1612

 

Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish 1577-1640)
Roman Charity (Cimon and Pero)
c. 1612
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
Acquired from the collection of Count Cobenzl, Brussels, 1768

 

Roman Charity (Cimon and Pero) depicts a story told by the Roman historian Valerius Maximus in his Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium libri IX (Nine Books of Memorable Deeds and Sayings), written around 30 AD. The story involves Cimon, an old man awaiting execution in prison who was not given food. Cimon’s daughter Pero visited him, and suckled him at her breast like a child. Pero’s nourishing of Cimon was considered an outstanding example of paying honour to one’s parents.

 

 

Room 4 Dutch art

The Hermitage holds the finest collection of Dutch art outside the Netherlands. While Peter the Great (1672-1725) had a passion for Dutch art and acquired some notable masterpieces, Catherine the Great established the depth and breadth of this extraordinary collection, beginning in 1764 with her first acquisitions. In that year Catherine purchased 317 paintings that had been assembled for Frederick II of Prussia by the German merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky. Among this substantial group were more than 100 Dutch paintings by the most notable masters.

In 1769 Catherine purchased the collection of Count Heinrich von Brühl, which included spectacular landscapes by Jacob van Ruisdael, Isaack Jansz. van Ostade and Aert van der Neer, as well as four Rembrandt portraits, including the wonderful Portrait of a scholar, 1631. For the rest of her life Catherine continued to add outstanding Dutch works to her rich collection. Although the paintings and drawings from the Dutch school included here are only a fragment of the extensive and diverse collection assembled by Catherine the Great, they reveal her artistic preferences and taste.

 

Installation view of room 4 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 4 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 4 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne with Rembrandt. Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch 1606-69) Portrait of a scholar 1631 at centre.

 

Rembrandt painted Portrait of a scholar shortly after moving from his native Leiden to Amsterdam in 1630. He had already established a growing reputation in Leiden and was enticed to the capital by the art dealer Hendrick van Uylenburgh, father of his future wife Saskia. Once completing the move, Rembrandt rapidly became the city’s leading artist, mainly on account of dazzling portraits such as this early masterpiece. He then secured the most prestigious commissions from wealthy and powerful citizens of Amsterdam.

 

 

Room 5 French taste

The Russian aristocracy spoke French and modelled their manners and style on those of the French Court. Catherine followed the vast intellectual strides of the French philosophes with passionate interest. She also embraced the arts, luring French artists, architects and craftsmen to St Petersburg.

Catherine relied on agents and advisors in France and Germany to identify and acquire works of art on her behalf. In this way she acquired the collection of Paris banker Louis Antoine Crozat, Baron de Thiers and other important bodies of work in France. Her holdings of French art came to encompass works by Renaissance masters as well as seventeenth-century landscapes and history paintings.

Catherine also acquired examples of work of her own century by Rococo artists such as Antoine Watteau. The playful, erotic and at times wistful art of Watteau’s generation gave rise to the intimate and worldly art of François Boucher, whose pictures Catherine also purchased. The Empress collected modern masterpieces created in reaction to French courtly and decadent styles. Her paintings by Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin are premier examples of a new, moralising directness in ambitious French art.

Catherine’s buying in France was not limited to French art. Also in this room are paintings by great German, Spanish and Italian masters that were acquired in Paris from prestigious collections under the direction of Catherine’s French advisors.

 

Installation view of room 5 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 5 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 5 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne.

 

 

Room 6 Catherine and the world

For Catherine the Great, collecting art was part of a wider economic and diplomatic program designed to stimulate economic and cultural activity at home and abroad. At a meeting in December 1762 with the Moscow Senate, Catherine suggested that consuls be stationed in Spain, Holland and England not only to promote maritime trade but also to source luxury goods and works of art as examples for Russian artists and manufacturers to aspire to.

Through Catherine’s consuls and agents, such items began to flow into St Petersburg, steadily elevating that city into a vibrant centre of European culture. While her cultural sympathies were French, Catherine was also very curious about Britain – the economic success story of the age. She informed herself about Britain’s trade, commerce, manufacturing, philosophy and political system, and purchased works by modern British neoclassical masters, such as Joseph Wright of Derby and Joshua Reynolds. Examples of Spanish, Italian and German art were often not sourced in their own countries of origin but acquired as a part of larger collections.

 

Installation view of room 6 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 6 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 6 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 6 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 6 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 6 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 6 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne with the 1773 sculpture Catherine II by Jean-Antoine Houdon (French 1741-1826) at centre.

 

 

Room 7 The Walpole collection

In 1779 Catherine the Great acquired 198 paintings from a celebrated collection formed by Sir Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, Britain’s first prime minister. They were bought from the family estate, Houghton Hall, and sold by Walpole’s grandson, George Walpole, 3rd Earl of Orford, who approached the Russian ambassador to Britain directly about the sale. At more than £40,000, the price was high, but the transaction was concluded in only two months. Attempts were made to keep this famous collection in Britain, to no avail.

The Walpole collection was outstanding in quality, and significantly enhanced the Hermitage’s range of Flemish and Italian works. The Russian ambassador to Great Britain, Alexey Musin-Pushkin, who organised the valuable purchase, wrote to Catherine the Great: ‘The greater part of the nobility here are displaying general dissatisfaction and regret that these paintings are being allowed out of this country, and are setting in train various projects to keep them here … No little assistance comes from Lord Orford’s zealous desire to unite [the collection for] the gallery of Your Imperial Majesty, rather than to sell it to parliament itself or, least of all, to divide it through sale to different individuals’.

 

Installation view of room 7 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 7 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 7 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne with Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657) Concert of birds, 1630-40 at right and Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657) Jan Boekckhorst (German 1605-68) Cook at a kitchen table with dead game, c. 1636-37 second left
Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657) 'Concert of birds' 1630-40

 

Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657)
Concert of birds
1630-40
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
Acquired from the collection of Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall, 1779

 

An important place in Flemish seventeenth-century painting is occupied by two specific genres: animal painting and the still life. One of the most important animal and still-life painters was Frans Snyders, a very close collaborator of Peter Paul Rubens who often painted still-life details and animals on the master’s canvases. Snyders’s superb skill as a painter of animals is revealed by Concert of birds, based on a subject from Aesop’s Fables. It shows a gathering of feathered creatures screeching and singing under the direction of an owl seated on a dried branch in front of an open music score.

 

Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657) 'Concert of birds' 1630-40 (detail)

 

Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657)
Concert of birds (detail)
1630-40
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
Acquired from the collection of Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall, 1779

 

Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657) Jan Boekckhorst (German 1605-68) 'Cook at a kitchen table with dead game' c. 1636-37 (detail)

 

Frans Snyders (Flemish 1579-1657)
Jan Boekckhorst (German 1605-68)
Cook at a kitchen table with dead game (detail)
c. 1636-37
Oil on canvas
The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

 

Frans Snyders was the son of the owner of one of Antwerp’s largest wine and eating houses. His dramatically realistic still lifes celebrate the exotic variety of rare fowls available at Antwerp’s markets. Images of dead animals being prepared for a banquet were understood in Snyder’s time as lessons in Christian morality. Many Dutch and Flemish still lifes featuring the sacrifice of an animal for the table functioned as allusions to Christ’s Passion and the transience of the flesh.

 

Installation view of room 7 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 7 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 7 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne with, at left in the bottom image, Anthony van Dyck (Flemish 1599-1641) Portrait of Philadelphia and Elizabeth Wharton, 1640

 

This is one of the most charming portraits of children paint by van Dyck, who had particular talent for such works. It is one of a group of family portraits commissioned from can Dyck by Philip, Lord Wharton in the late 1630s. Van Dyck worked in England for approximately ten ears and brought a new standard of elegance and style to English portraiture. He largely conveyed this through his flair for painting lavish costumes and sumptuous fabrics, a sensibility he carried through to his portraits of children.

 

 

Room 8 China

Eighteenth-century Enlightenment fascination with the East, particularly China, is reflected by Catherine the Great’s architectural and landscaping works completed in St Petersburg and at her summer and winter palaces, as well as by her collecting of Oriental curiosities and philosophical texts. Russian interest in China can be traced to the reign of the Romanov tsars in the seventeenth century, when several missions brought back Chinese treasures and goods to the Russian Court. Importantly, in 1689 the first treaty between Russia and China was signed at Nerchinsk, outlining the border between the countries and rules about caravan trade.

Like many educated people of her time, Catherine was fascinated by the concept of the enlightened ruler thought to be found in China, such as the Kangxi Emperor (reigned 1662-1722), Yongzhèng Emperor (reigned 1723-35), and Qianlong Emperor (reigned 1736-95). One of her regular and most influential correspondents was French philosopher Voltaire, who praised the Celestial Kingdom, its monarchs and men of wisdom; only in China, he thought, was a man’s life, honour and property truly protected by law. Such a clear link between Catherine’s desire for justice and order in Russia and general perceptions of good Chinese government, combined with the Enlightenment fashion for curiosities of all kinds, led to great Russian interest in China in the second half of the eighteenth century.

 

Installation view of room 8 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 8 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 8 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 8 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 8 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 8 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

Installation view of room 8 of the exhibition 'Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great' at NGV International, Melbourne

 

Installation views of room 8 of the exhibition Masterpieces from the Hermitage: The Legacy of Catherine the Great at NGV International, Melbourne

 

 

NGV International
180 St Kilda Road

Opening hours for exhibition
10am – 5pm daily

NGV Masterpieces from the Hermitage website

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05
Aug
14

Exhibition: ‘Chris Round / Inversion’ at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 22nd – 26th July 2014

 

My apologies to Chris Round that I did not get this posting up during the short run of the exhibition. It was a bit of a crowded time with the exhibition Out of the closets and Nite Art on.

The work, shown in the small black gallery at Edmund Pearce, had great presence and beauty. The backgrounds had a luminous pastel affect, much more so than in the reproductions shown here. The objects seemed to float off the paper. This is experimental work for Round (vis a vis his landscape practice) but the influences for the work can be seen in the two landscape photographs that I have included here.

I really enjoyed the beauty, serenity and context of these metaphorical landscapes.

Marcus

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

 

 

Chris Round. 'Inversion #5' 2014

 

Chris Round
Inversion #5
2014
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
64 x 84 cm
Edition of 7
© Chris Round

 

Chris Round. 'Inversion #4' 2014

 

Chris Round
Inversion #4
2014
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
64 x 84 cm
Edition of 7
© Chris Round

 

Chris Round. 'Nowra, NSW' 2013

 

Chris Round
Nowra, NSW
2013
Archival inkjet print
© Chris Round

 

Chris Round. 'Inversion #2' 2014

 

Chris Round
Inversion #2
2014
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
64 x 84 cm
Edition of 7
© Chris Round

 

Chris Round. 'Inversion #1' 2014

 

Chris Round
Inversion #3
2014
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
64 x 84 cm
Edition of 7
© Chris Round

 

Chris Round. 'Ulladulla harbour, NSW' 2012

 

Chris Round
Ulladulla harbour, NSW
2012
Archival inkjet print
© Chris Round

 

Chris Round. 'Inversion #1' 2014

 

Chris Round
Inversion #1
2014
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
64 x 84 cm
Edition of 7
© Chris Round

 

 

Inversion marks a departure from my normal landscape based work and in to experimental still life. This series is an investigation into form and visual illusion using functional, mass-produced objects. By removing context – using a reflective surface that’s not immediately apparent and at times changing colours – I’m interrogating the duality of the real and the imagined, the prosaic and the beautiful. I’m also exploring the physicality of depth and space, re-evaluating both utilitarian aesthetic and function simultaneously.

Text by the artist on the Edmund Pearce website

 

Chris Round. 'Inversion #6' 2014

 

Chris Round
Inversion #6
2014
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
84 x 64 cm
Edition of 7
© Chris Round

 

Chris Round. 'Inversion #7' 2014

 

Chris Round
Inversion #7
2014
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
84 x 64 cm
Edition of 7
© Chris Round

 

Chris Round. 'Inversion #8' 2014

 

 

Chris Round
Inversion #8
2014
Archival pigment print on cotton rag
84 x 64 cm
Edition of 7
© Chris Round

 

 

Edmund Pearce Gallery
Level 2, Nicholas Building
37 Swanston Street (corner Flinders Lane)
Melbourne Victoria 3000
T: (03) 9023 5775

Opening hours:
Tues – Sat 11 am – 5 pm

Edmund Pearce Gallery website

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30
Jun
13

Exhibition: ‘Petrina Hicks: Selected Photographs, 2013’ at Helen Gory Galerie, Prahran, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 12t June – 6th July 2013

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“They’re thoughtful pictures that arouse curiosity rather than desire.”

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Robert Nelson

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A stunning, eloquent and conceptually complex exhibition buy Petrina Hicks at Helen Gory Galerie. It seems churlish to repeat writing about the themes and mythologies exhibited in the work after they have been so excellently delineated in the catalogue essay by Dan Rule. Everything that you need to know about the work is in that concise piece of writing.

I am just going to add that the photograph Venus (2013, below) is one of the most beautiful photographs that I have seen “in the flesh” (so to speak) for a long while. Hicks control over the ‘presence’ of the image, her control over the presence within the image is immaculate. To observe how she modulates the colour shift from blush of pink within the conch shell, to colour of skin, to colour of background is an absolute joy to behold. The pastel colours of skin and background only serve to illuminate the richness of the pink within the shell as a form of immaculate conception (an openness of the mind and of the body). I don’t really care who is looking at this photograph (not another sexualised male gaze!) the form is just beauty itself. I totally fell in love with this work.

Forget the neo-feminist readings, one string of text came to mind: The high fidelity of a fetishistic fecundity.

Marcus

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

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Petrina Hicks. 'Venus' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
Venus
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 100cm

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Petrina Hicks. 'The Birth of Venus' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
The Birth of Venus
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 133cm

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Petrina Hicks. 'Birdfingers' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
Birdfingers
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 100cm

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Beauty and Artifice

Catalogue Essay by Dan Rule

“There’s a particular acuteness to the various strands, cues and counterpoints informing Petrina Hicks’ by now extensive body of work. Her highly keyed brand of hyperrealism is at once incisive in tenor and rich in historical, referential and allegorical depth.

An obvious vantage has long been that of the advertised image. Hicks’ subjects, palette and props are enveloped in a slickened and stunningly sickening sheen that is all too familiar. Augmented, buffed and polished, her works are traces of the highly aestheticised and fetishistic images that proliferate throughout the popular visual language. The skin, hair, clothing, surface and light assume an all but unsettling patina. The index is set askew amid the insidious markers of style and desire.

But Hicks’ highly constructed images aren’t mere transgressions of what has become a gleaming vernacular form. Every encroachment into the frame, every flat, luridly coloured backdrop has an implication and a consequence. In previous works, she has broached creation mythologies; she has recast religious subplots and in gloss and saccharine. Her 2011 series Hippy and the Snake – which comprised a painstakingly realised 25-minute video work alongside a collection of large-scale photographs – might have been read as a flirtation with Eve’s dalliance with the serpent in a re-imagined Garden of Eden.

Sex, birth and death also lurk amid Hicks’ latest series of images, presented as the central strand of her Selected Photographs exhibition. Set against a muted, neutral backdrop, these large-format photographs broach both the portrait and the still life, teasing out a taxonomy of sensuous allegories and sinister omens. In the somewhat aptly titled Bird Fingers, a young girl intently studies her fingertips, each of which is adorned with a tiny bird’s skull, as if a finger puppet or a jewel. That the girl’s expression is neither one of fear nor admiration – but rather, a measured intrigue – gives this work a fascinating twist. Her reaction to death is unlearned; she studies and surveys and pieces together the evidence. Another work, The Hand That Feeds, sees another young protagonist calmly offering her palm to a crow – an avian so often cast with the pall of death.

Venus, meanwhile, sees a woman hold a glossy, pink conch shell – fleshy and open – before her face as if a beacon. The accompanying Birth of Venus is a still life comprising a conflation of symbologies and references. An overfilled champagne glass perches beside the aforementioned shell, a string of pearls draped across and within its span. It delves deep into both art and socio-feminist history. While the pearl has long invoked purity and femininity throughout mythology, the conch engenders that of fertility. But these works also echo with a more contemporary resonance – one perhaps found in second-wave feminism. While the champagne might be read as an allusion to upward mobility and financial independence, the string pearls almost resemble birth control pills (perhaps an allegory for the emancipation of the female reproductive organs?). In New Age, a jagged crystal takes the place of pubic hair, resting hard and sharp against the softness and fragility of the flesh. This symbol for healing only works to amplify the vulnerability of the body. That Hicks’ engages with such themes in 2013 points to the folly of complacency. The notion that we can sleep in the wake of  feminism is bogus, null and void.

Indeed, Hicks’ retrieval and reinterpretation of mythologies and social precedents suggests that history repeats. While her images of children suggest minds unsullied by the scourge of learned prejudices and social mores, Venus and her like describe the continuum of the sexualised male gaze. That Hicks’ co-opts a visual language so often used to hock products and desires serves as the ultimate repost. Human complexity can continue to exist, even amid the cycle and the cynicism of the commercial artifice.”

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Installation view of 'Petrina Hicks: Selected Photographs, 2013' at Helen Gory Galerie

Installation view of 'Petrina Hicks: Selected Photographs, 2013' at Helen Gory Galerie

Installation view of 'Petrina Hicks: Selected Photographs, 2013' at Helen Gory Galerie

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Installation views of Petrina Hicks: Selected Photographs, 2013 at Helen Gory Galerie

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Petrina Hicks. 'Enigma' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
Enigma
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 100cm

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Petrina Hicks. 'The Hand That Feeds' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
The Hand That Feeds
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 220cm

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Petrina Hicks. 'The Beauty of History' 2010

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Petrina Hicks
The Beauty of History
2010
Pigment print, Edition of 8
85 x 85cm

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Petrina Hicks. 'New Age' 2013

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Petrina Hicks
New Age
2013
Pigment print, Edition of 8
100 x 220cm

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Helen Gory Galerie
25, St. Edmonds Road,
Prahran, Vic 3181

Opening hours:
Wed – Fri 11 – 5pm
Sat 10 – 4pm

Helen Gory Galerie website

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18
May
13

Exhibition: ‘Saul Leiter’ at Kunst Haus Wien, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 31st January – 26th May 2013

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“I like it when one is not certain of what one sees.
We don’t know why the photographer has taken such a picture.
If we look and look, we begin to see and are still left with the pleasure of uncertainty.”

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“It is not where it is or what it is that matters, but how you see it.”

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“After the age of 75 you should not be photographed.
You should be painted by Rembrandt or Hals, but not by Caravaggio.”

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Saul Leiter

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How brave is this photographer, occluding most of the colour image in darkness, something that had never been done before and has rarely been seen since. Look at the last three photographs in this posting to understand what I mean.

Considering that Saul Leiter’s colour photography predates William Eggleston and Stephen Shore by a couple of decades, it can truly be said that he is one of the early masters of colour photography. As the curator Ingo Taubhorn comments, “The older aesthetic views on the hegemony of black-and-white photography and the historical dating of the first artistic use of colour photography to the early 1970s need to be critically reviewed. Saul Leiter’s oeuvre essentially rewrites the history of photography.”  Well said.

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

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Saul Leiter. 'From the El' c. 1955

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Saul Leiter
From the El
c. 1955
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Nude' 1970s

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Saul Leiter
Nude
1970s
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Taxi' c. 1957

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Saul Leiter
Taxi
c. 1957
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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KUNST HAUS WIEN is devoting a major retrospective to the oeuvre of the 89-year-old photographer and painter Saul Leiter. The exhibition, which was developed in cooperation with House of Photography / Deichtorhallen Hamburg, presents the wide range of this versatile artist’s works, including early black-and-white and colour photographs, fashion images, painted photographs of nudes, paintings and a number of his sketchbooks. One section of the exhibition is devoted to Saul Leiter’s most recent photographs, which he continues to take on the streets of New York’s East Village.

It is only in the last few years that Saul Leiter has received due recognition for his role as one of the pioneers of colour photography. As early as 1946, and thus well before the representatives of the so-called “new colour” photography in the 1970s, such as William Eggleston and Stephen Shore, he was one of the first to use colour photography for artistic shots, despite its being frowned upon by other artists of the day. “The older aesthetic views on the hegemony of black-and-white photography and the historical dating of the first artistic use of colour photography to the early 1970s need to be critically reviewed. Saul Leiter’s oeuvre essentially rewrites the history of photography,” comments curator Ingo Taubhorn.

Saul Leiter has always considered himself both a painter and a photographer. In his painting and in his photographs he clearly tends towards abstraction and two-dimensionality. One often finds large deep-black areas, produced by shadows, taking up as much as three quarters of his photographs. Passers-by are not presented as individuals, but as blurred clouds of colour, filtered through misty panes of glass or wedged in between walls of buildings and traffic signs. The boundaries between the abstract and the representational in his paintings and photographs are virtually fluid. Saul Leiter’s street photography – a genre in which his work is matchless – is, in essence, painting metamorphosed into photography.

In Leiter’s works, the genres of street photography, portraiture, still life, fashion photography and architectural photography coalesce. He finds his motifs, such as shop windows, passers-by, cars, signs and – time and again – umbrellas, in the direct vicinity of his apartment in New York, where he has now lived for almost 60 years. The indeterminateness of detail, the blurring of movement and reduced depth of field, the use of shadows or deliberate avoidance of the necessary light, as well as the alienation caused by photographing through windows or as reflections, all combine to create the muted colour vocabulary of a semi-real, semiabstract urban space. These are the works of an as yet almost undiscovered modern master of colour photography.

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About Saul Leiter

Saul Leiter discovered his passion for art at an early age and started painting as a teenager at the end of the 1940s. His family did not support him in his artistic endeavours; his father, a renowned Talmudic rabbi and scholar, had always hoped his son Saul would one day follow him in the family tradition and become a rabbi. Leiter was self-taught, but by no means uneducated. He read and learned a great deal about art, so that his knowledge and understanding constantly grew. In this way, he made sure that his own ideas and artistic works were duly related to the historical context.

In 1946, shortly after he had moved to New York, Leiter became acquainted with Richard Poussette-Dart, who introduced him to photography, a medium that appealed to Leiter very much and that he quickly made his own. Leiter soon resolved to use photography not only as a means of making art but as a way of earning a living. He started taking fashion photographs, and thanks to his good eye, his playful sense of humour, and his pronounced sense of elegance, swiftly emerged as an extraordinary fashion photographer. In the 1950s, “Life” magazine published photo spreads of Saul Leiter’s first black-and-white series. He took part in exhibitions, for example “Always the Young Strangers” (1953) curated by Edward Steichen at the Museum of Modern Art. From 1958 to 1967, Leiter worked for “Harper’s Bazaar.” Altogether he spent some 20 years photographing for various classic magazines as well as more recent ones: after “Esquire” and “Harper’s” he also worked for “Show”, “Elle”, “British Vogue”, “Queen” and “Nova”.

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Saul Leiter. 'New York' 1950s

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Saul Leiter
New York
1950s
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Sign Painter' 1954

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Saul Leiter
Sign Painter
1954
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Graffiti Heads' 1950

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Saul Leiter
Graffiti Heads
1950
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Shirt' 1948

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Saul Leiter
Shirt
1948
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Harlem' 1960

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Saul Leiter
Harlem
1960
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Hat' 1956

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Saul Leiter
Hat
1956
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Street Scene' 1957

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Saul Leiter
Street Scene
1957
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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The exhibition chapters

Abstract Painting

Although his photographic oeuvre has dominated his image as an artist, Saul Leiter sees himself first and foremost as a painter. He began his artistic career as a painter, and while working as a photographer he never stopped painting and drawing. Leiter’s passion for art began when he was just a child, even though his ambitions received no support from his family. As a teenager he spent many hours in libraries studying art books. He found inspiration in the paintings of such artists as Vermeer, Bonnard, Vuillard and Picasso, as well as in Japanese graphic art. Leiter, who was self-taught, painted his first pictures in 1940. Most of them were lyrical, abstract compositions that reflected his admiration for the new American avant-garde. His ardent feeling for colour is recognisable even in these early paintings, as is his lifelong predilection for painting small format pastels and watercolours on paper.

After moving to New York in 1946, he sometimes presented his works together with abstract expressionist painters such as Willem de Kooning and Philip Guston. His studio was located on 10th Street in the East Village, which at that time was a neighbourhood very popular with avant-garde artists. Leiter shared these artists’ interest in abstraction and the use of colour, gesture and the element of chance, but he chose a radically different format for his works. Whereas many of his contemporaries, such as Jasper Johns or Franz Kline, painted wall-sized paintings that physically filled the beholder’s entire field of vision, Leiter worked in an intimate, small format. His works were also exhibited at the Tanager Gallery, one of the most important artist-run cooperatives in the East Village at that time. After switching the main focus of his work to photography in the late 1940s, however, Leiter stopped exhibiting his paintings.

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Figurative Painting

Saul Leiter’s abstract painting frequently unites qualities of intimacy and familiarity with a sense of space reminiscent of an open landscape. Occasionally he also makes figurative sketches. Often these give mere intimations of a face or a body, perhaps a pointed nose, eyes and a mouth. Some of his male figures wear hats, similar to those worn by the religious Jews that peopled Leiter’s world in his youth. Most of these works focus on a single figure; only occasionally do we see a couple, or several figures grouped together. The quality of the line and the subtle suggestion of figures or heads in these paintings are reminiscent of paintings by Édouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard, in which facial features are hinted at through lines and fine shadings of color rather than being defined by careful modelling.

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Street Photography

When, in 1947, Saul Leiter attended an exhibition of works by the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, he became convinced of the creative potential of this medium. He bought himself a 35mm Leica camera at a bargain and began, without any previous training, to take photographs on the streets of New York. At first he used only black-and-white film, but in 1948 he also started using colour film. His black-and-white photographs exhibit some elements of documentary photography but are nevertheless far removed from a photojournalistic style. Rather, they are subjective observations, often concentrating on a single individual in the big city. Leiter’s complex, multilayered works evoke feelings of alienation, melancholy and tension. Leiter underscores this impression by experimenting with strong contrasts, light and shadow, and asymmetrical compositions containing large areas in which the images are blurred.

Thematically and stylistically, there are great similarities between Leiter’s works and the works of other representatives of New York street photography of the same era, for example Ted Croner, Leon Levinstein, Louis Faurer and later Robert Frank and William Klein, today generally known as the New York School. Their radical new, subjective photography had a psychological component that revealed an unusual sensitivity to social turbulences and the uncertainty felt by many Americans during the years following the Second World War.

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Colour Photography

Until well into the 1970s, colour photography was used almost exclusively for advertising and fashion magazines. Many photographers considered the vivid colours unsuitable for artistic expression. Moreover, they were unable to develop their colour film themselves, which made it a very expensive undertaking. It was not until 1976 that the Museum of Modern Art in New York gave its first exhibition devoted to colour photography, when it presented “Photographs by William Eggleston”.

Saul Leiter was one of the few photographers who did not reject colour photography. As a painter, he took a particular interest in street photography as a genre in which to experiment with colour film. As early as 1948, at the beginning of his career, he bought his first roles of 35mm Kodachrome colour slide film, which had been on the market since 1936. In order to save money, he often used film that had passed its sell-by date. Leiter particularly liked the resulting pictures with their delicate, muted colours.

The innumerable early colour photographs that Leiter took between 1948 and 1960 are of a unique painterly and narrative quality. They stand in contrast to the works of other photographers, in which colour is often the defining element of the composition. This circumstance, coupled with Leiter’s tendency towards abstraction, links Leiter’s photography with his painting. But in contrast to his painting (and his black-and-white photographs), his colour photographs are highly structured. It is the incomparable beauty of these works that has brought Leiter recognition as one of the masters of 20th-century photography.

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Fashion Photography

In the late 1950s, Saul Leiter worked successfully in the fields of fashion photography and advertising. From the very first, his style was unmistakeable. His images were multilayered and complex, characterised by soft, impressionistic qualities and cubist changes of perspective. He was given his first commercial assignment in 1958 by Henry Wolf, at that time the new Art Director of Harper’s Bazaar, with whom Leiter became friends. Harper’s Bazaar was one of the leading American fashion magazines, presenting trail-blazing fashion series by photographers such as Richard Avedon or Lillian Bassman.

Subsequently, Leiter was given more and more prestigious assignments, and over the years began to spend almost all his time doing commercial work. Apart from Harper’s Bazaar, his fashion and advertising photos appeared in Elle and Show, in British Vogue and Queen and also in Nova. The amazing thing is that during this period, Leiter managed to retain his own narrative, stylised aesthetic, whereas other fashion photographers favoured a rather brittle, graphic style. In the 1970s, partly due to his own dwindling interest in commercial photography, Leiter received fewer and fewer assignments. In 1981 he gave up his studio on Fifth Avenue and in the following years led a quiet life far from the public eye.

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Saul Leiter. 'Carol Brown, 'Harper's Bazaar'' c. 1958

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Saul Leiter
Carol Brown, ‘Harper’s Bazaar’
c. 1958
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Soames Bantry, 'Nova'' 1960

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Saul Leiter
Soames Bantry, ‘Nova’
1960
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Walking' 1956

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Saul Leiter
Walking
1956
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Reflection' 1958

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Saul Leiter
Reflection
1958
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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“I spent a great deal of my life being ignored. I was always very happy that way. Being ignored is a great privilege. That is how I think I learnt to see what others do not see and to react to situations differently. I simply looked at the world, not really prepared for anything.”

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Saul Leiter

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Art critic Roberta Smith wrote in 2005: “Mr. Leiter was a photographer less of people than of perception itself. His painter’s instincts served him well in his emphasis on surface, spatial ambiguity and a lush, carefully calibrated palette. But the abstract allure of his work doesn’t rely on soft focus, a persistent, often irritating photographic ploy, or the stark isolation of details, in the manner of Aaron Siskind or early Harry Callahan. Instead, Mr. Leiter captured the passing illusions of everyday life with a precision that might almost seem scientific, if it weren’t so poetically resonant and visually layered.” (from Lens Culture)

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Saul Leiter. 'Shopping' c. 1953

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Saul Leiter
Shopping
c. 1953
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Kutztown' 1948

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Saul Leiter
Kutztown
1948
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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Saul Leiter. 'Pizza, Patterson' 1952

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Saul Leiter
Pizza, Patterson
1952
© Saul Leiter / Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York

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KUNST HAUS WIEN
Museum Hundertwasser
Untere Weißgerberstraße 13
1030 Vienna
T: +43-1-712 04 91

Opening hours:
Daily, 10 am – 7 pm

Kunst Haus Wein website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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