Irving Penn is a 100 at the Grand Palais

Irving Penn, Three Asaro Mud Men, New Guinea, 1970, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation © The Irving Penn Foundation

We all know Irving Penn’s fabulous fashion shots for Vogue and his portraits of famous writers and painters. But I had never seen his series of Cuzco peasants photographed in 1948 nor his cigarette buts which were so visionary at the time : the exhibition of mostly black and white pictures at the Grand Palais is stunning and so elegantly laid out on walls painted in different shades of grey!

After-Dinner Games [Jeux pour après-dîner] New York, 1947, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation © Condé Nast

Born a hundred years ago, Irving Aaron Penn started out as a painter and lived in Coyoacan, Mexico, with his first wife Mary Faulconer. He was hired in 1943 by Alexander Liberman at Vogue as art director in charge of covers. In October, his first colour photograph makes the cover of Amercian Vogue. The following year, his fashion photographs are published in the magazine. His picture of « the 12 models most photographed » in 1947 is a turning point in his career and in his life. He marries one of them, Lisa Fonssagrives.

Rochas Mermaid Dress (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn) Paris, 1950, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation © Condé Nast

The elegance and the minimalism of his studio pictures is legendary. What is less known is his experience in Cuzco, Peru. Sent to do some fashion shoots for the February 1949 issue of Vogue, he spends three more days alone in the Inca city. He borrows the local photographer’s studio and pays local peasants to sit for him.

February 1949 issue of Vogue featuring Cuzco portraits

The result is two thousand portraits in black and white and color, focusing on the clothes and the faces of this high altitude populaiton. The result is outsanding. The issue of Vogue is exhibited in a show case.


Girl with Tobacco on Tongue (Mary Jane Russell, New York, 1951, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation © Condé Nast

 

In the first room of the show , colour stilllives are extremely fun and include witty capitons like afterdinner games ac upof coffee with chess and cards) or salad ingredients, a beautiful still life with two spoons for oil and vinegar. On the second floor, the 23 pictures of cigarette buts make you want to quit instantly.They are so modern and efficicent at the same time.

Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn, Irving Penn at Work in New Guinea,1970, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation © The Lisa-Fonssagrives-Penn Trust

If you are keen on fashion pictures, you will find here the best examples of his work for Vogue as well as a petal Mouth for l’Oréal. I did not particularly like his nudes nor his Petits Métiers, which I found more conventional, but really enjoyed his portraits from Morocco, Dahomey, New Guinea, assembled in the room « Le Monde dans un studio », the world in a studio.

The galleries painted in different shades of grey

This exhibition is made with  the collection of the Irving Penn Foundation promised to the Metropolitan museum. (Grand Palais until January 29, 2018)

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