The Photographs of Irving Penn and Princely Portraits by Rubens
28 April 2017
Discover some of the World’s Most Iconic Portraits in Paris this Autumn
This autumn, see the artists responsible for some of the world’s most iconic portraits; as Peter Paul Rubens’ paintings of 17th century sovereigns, and the photographs of Irving Penn are the subject of two ground-breaking exhibitions in Paris.
21st September 2017 – 29th January 2018
2017 marks the centennial of the birth of the late, great Irving Penn; one of the paramount photographers of the 20th century… whose 70 year career is celebrated this September with an all-encompassing retrospective at the Grand Palais – organised in collaboration with New York’s Metropolitan Museum.
Known for his fashion photography and long running affiliation with Vogue, the exhibition begins with a look at Penn’s early magazine covers from the 1940s; which revolutionised the future of couture photography with his refined simplicity, minimalist backdrops and masterful lighting. However, Penn’s aspiration to be a serious artist would see him move beyond the glitz and glamour of Vogue; and is presented at the Grand Palais through his voluptuous nudes, indigenous peoples and series of still life’s – finding beauty in subjects such as discarded cigarette ends. Even more so, Penn’s Small Trade series is a reflection of his ‘anti-fashion’ stance; portraying sewer workers, fishmongers and everyday people from New York, Paris and London in postures parallel to models from the glossy pages of Vogue.
Yet, although Penn’s heart clearly lied with the creation of art, he continued to work with Vogue throughout his illustrious career; even marrying one of his subjects – the ‘first supermodel’ Lisa Fonssagrives. The numbering black and white photographs of Fonssagrives are among the highlights at Grand Palais… but Penn is undoubtedly best known for his other iconic black and white portraits. The images of Pablo Picasso, Truman Capote, Joe Louis, Audrey Hepburn, Salvador Dali, Yves Saint Laurent and Alfred Hitchcock make up some of the most recognisable portraits ever photographed... and even if you aren’t familiar with the work of Penn; you are assured to recognise his classic Corner Portraits.
While seminal snaps by Irving Penn provide the inherent focus of Grand Palais’ retrospective; further surprises are afforded by newly discovered footage of the artist at work in Morocco, and unused photographs from major collections previously unseen in public. A life-long companion of Penn also features in the form of his favourite prop – an old cloud-etched curtain from a Parisian theatre. Penn was revered for his favouring of simple equipment over modern technology… and this backdrop followed him from studio to studio for the best part of 70 years; which will be displayed alongside the photographs in which it was used.
The great Irving Penn believed “a good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it” – which will certainly be the case this September, when the great American Photographer makes his home in the Grand Palais until 29th January 2018.
Rubens’ Princely Portraits
4th October 2017 – 14th January 2018
A prolific artist, Peter Paul Rubens painted everything from symbolic landscapes and suggestive nudes; to allegorical scenes from classical mythology and modern history. However, it is for portraits of Europe’s elite that he is better known; which is the subject of Musée du Luxembourg’s look at the ‘painter of princes and prince of painters’.
The exhibition – the most significant on Rubens’ portraiture to date – features a substantial collection from his paintings of 17th century aristocracy; where the likes of Charles V, Louis XIII, Marie de' Medici and Philip IV are displayed in a manner fitting of the imperious contexts in which they were painted.
However, more than a mere study of the artist’s seminal paintings of the ruling classes; the exhibition at Musée du Luxembourg also examines his role as an adroit diplomat, subtle spy and Pan-European figure – who moved seamlessly between the royal courts of the continent – providing for an unobscured insight into the palatial atmosphere and political intrigues of monarchs during the 17th century.
Such was Rubens’ prestige as a diplomat, he was influential in negotiating the end of the Anglo-Spanish war in 1630, after being deployed as an envoy by the King of Spain to win the favour of Charles I… and would later be knighted by both respective monarchs for his courtly capabilities. However, beyond the manipulating and entertaining of England’s elite; Rubens was first and foremost an exceptional painter… and the trip was also a resounding success artistically. After impressing Charles, the painter was commissioned to transform the ceiling of his Banqueting Hall in Whitehall Palace; leaving a number of England’s lordly luminaries all vying to be immortalised by the great artist. The Earl of Arundel and the Royal Physician, Théodore Turquet de Mayerne, are two such dignified figures whose portraits will be displayed at Musée du Luxembourg.
Rubens’ deft with a paintbrush would later inspire a number of contemporaries; the most prominent of which will be displayed alongside the oeuvre of the great master. Of these, revered artists include Van Dyck, Pourbus, Champaigne and Velázquez; with the latter’s portrait of Philip IV surpassing even those painted by Rubens himself.
Ultimately, the genius of Rubens travelled the lengths of Europe and spanned generations; hailed by celebrated art critic John Ruskin when he said: “his calibre of mind was originally such that I believe the world may see another Titian and another Raffaele, before it sees another Rubens” – and this October, you can see his genius for yourself in the Princely Portraits of Rubens at the Musée du Luxembourg.
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