Irving Penn Portraits on Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London

Rock Groups (Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Grateful Dead), San Francisco,1967 The Morgan Library & Museum. Gift of Irving Penn. 2007.66 © The Irving Penn Foundation

Irving Penn (1917-2009) was a master craftsman of the photographic portrait. The clarity and precision he marshaled in his still life studies carried through his commercial and fashion work to an arguable acme in his portrait work. Many will say that he directly brought those techniques into his portraits by casting the famous personages as objet d’artes, art objects, with the posing and lighting to make them into 3D still life tableaux.

Marlene Dietrich, New York, 1948 National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Gift of Irving Penn © Condé Nast Publications, Inc.

Even when his subjects appear ‘off-their-guard’ there is the sense of carefully crafted moment, in a thought out setting. Casual, maybe. Intense and intent, definitely.

Alfred Hitchcock, New York, 1947 National Portrait Gallery, London © Condé Nast Publications, Inc.

Nonetheless, there is a great power in these individuals, enhanced and magnified by the focus that Penn brought with his unerringly sharp mental lens.

Rudolf Nureyev, New York, 1965 National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Gift of Irving Penn © Les Editions Condé Nast S.A.

Featured in this exhibition are such cultural luminaries as Salvador Dali, Al Pacino, Pablo Picasso, Grace Kelly, Rudolf Nureyev, Truman Capote, T.S. Eliot, Duke Ellington, Harold Pinter, Edith Piaf, and Christian Dior.

The Duchess of Windsor, New York, 1948 National Portrait Gallery, London © The Irving Penn Foundation

Irving Penn Portraits presents thirty photographs of renowned personalities by one of the most distinguished photographers of the 20th century. With an essay by curator Magdalene Keaney, Irving Penn Portraits is the first book to focus exclusively on Penn’s portraiture and his contributions to the genre. From Penn’s early work of the 1940s to recent images made in 21st century, Irving Penn Portraits honors a selection of photographs with reproductions of superb quality.

Irving Penn Portraits

Among those featured are Giorgio de Chirico, Igor Stravinsky, Pablo Picasso, Duke Ellington, Marlene Dietrich, Woody Allen, Rudolf Nureyev, Helmut Newton and Jasper Johns.

Irving Penn Portraits will be on view at the National Portrait Gallery, London through 6 June 2010.

The exhibition will tour to Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome from 1 July to 19 September 2010.

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10 thoughts on “Irving Penn Portraits on Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London

  1. wow, great portraits, I haven’t seen most of those….BTW, do you think he is related to William Penn? Just wondering…..

  2. William Penn, no, but Irving Penn’s younger brother is Arthur Penn, director of such films as Bonny and Clyde and the inestimable Mickey One.

      1. Yeah, Ken, great use of Getz and Eddie Sauter (and of the book of Jeremiah) in Mickey One (not to mention of Warren Beatty). I came late to Getz, having been convinced that Art Pepper would be the only white saxophonist I could stomach (early but discarded racism). Sorry I spelled Bonnie’s name wrong. (Worse would have been to spell Bonnie Bramlett’s name wrong!)

        1. The LP I have of the movie soundtrack has a still from the great ‘steamroom’ scene on the back of the jacket. (mine is mono!)

          I’d have to put in a word for Gerry Mulligan, though the race factor hasn’t been a specific filter for my appreciation of sax players.

          ‘Bonnie Bramlett’ – haven’t heard much about her in a while. My favorite work of hers, and Delany’s, was the self titled ‘Eric Clapton’ album which also yielded the fine ‘After Midnight’ track.

          1. I was kind of kidding. Or too heavily under the influence of John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter. I always loved (though in relatively brief encounters) Gerry Mulligan and saw him at the Newport Jazz Festival and later at Birdland in what was probably 1963. I then came to love his recordings with Paul Desmond (the contrast of those sounds!). And there are (white guys) Phil Woods and Jackie McLean, Zoot Sims and Lee Konitz.

            As for D&B, the Clapton collaboration I knew was Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, On Tour with Eric Clapton (when Clapton may have been happier as a musician than ever before or since). (And then there was D&B’s recording of “Come On in My Kitchen,” with, I think,perhaps the best of them all, Duane Allman.

            1. We are so far afield of this post’s topic. hah.

              On the sax, I’ll just say ‘Lester Young’

              D&B did at least the 2 albums under Clapton’s name, both with several fine tunes.

              And, I used to collect albums on which Duane Allman sat in; Clapton, Aretha, some blues musicians, etc.

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