Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Irving Penn At The Metropolitan Museum Of Art

Last week, I popped over to the Met to see the Irving Penn Centennial Exhibition.  The show is billed as the most comprehensive retrospective to date of Penn's work, following the announcement of the promised gift from the Irving Penn Foundation of more than 150 photographs by Penn to the Met.

Photography was my first love, especially fashion photography, so I was very excited to see this exhibition.  Including the 150 photographs previously mentioned, there are more than two hundred on display.  This is one of the most exciting exhibits I've seen in some time.

The photos are categorized into groups in the various galleries.  In addition to fashion, Penn traveled the world photographing people, sometimes setting up a makeshift studio to achieve the look he wanted.  He also did portrait and still life photography.

Here are a few photos from the exhibit.

Ballet Society, New York, 1948

One of my favorites from the show.  It's so artistically done.  Penn often posed people in a small corner of the studio and to great effect if I may say so.

Dior Dress (Dorian Leigh), New York, 1949

Here is what I really wanted to see, the fashion.  These photos are amazing.  If you are a lover of fashion, especially vintage fashion, this is the show to see.

Balenciaga Rose Dress, Paris, 1967

Christian Lacroix Duchesse Satin Dress, Paris, 1993

Black and White Fashion with Handbag (Jean Patchett),1950

Cocoa Colored Balenciaga Dress (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), Paris, 1950

The Twelve Most Photographed Models, New York, 1947

Because of his talents with both still life and portraiture, Penn was tasked with Vogue's group portraits.  It was at this shoot that he met Lisa Fonssagrives, who became his wife three years later.

Ungaro Bride Body Sculpture (Marisa Berenson), Paris, 1969

Some of Penn's many Vogue covers, back when Vogue actually knew how to do a cover.  These were high fashion models in designer clothes.  Today we have various reality tv show dingbats who are running around in yoga clothes in real life.  Extremely disappointing and not likely to go away any time soon.  And while I'm on my soap box, what is it with these so called celebrities and their naked dresses at the Met Ball?  I used to eagerly await the Ball every year, but I've given up on it.  There are a few people who are actually into fashion and the rest are celebrities with stylists, who in my humble opinion, should be fired immediately.  Yes, this subject gets my dander up!

Anyway, back to the exhibit, Penn also did portraits of many famous people and it was said that to be asked to sit for him was a great privilege that was not easily turned down.

Yves Saint Laurent

Pablo Picasso at La Californie, Cannes, 1957

There was a funny caption accompanying this photo.  Apparently when Penn arrived at Picasso's house, the artist pretended he was not at home.  After Penn's assistant climbed over the locked gate, Picasso granted Penn ten minutes!

Dora Maar, France 1948

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, New York, 1993

Mouth (for L'Oreal) New York, 1986

Penn did print work, including the famous Mouth photo.

Single Oriental Poppy, New York, 1968

In the 1960's Vogue asked Penn to photograph flowers.  He was not interested in them before, but they became a passion for him.  He wrote that his preference was for flowers considerably after they had passed the point of perfection.  The images were published in special Christmas issues from 1967 to 1973.

Peony 'Silver Dawn', New York, 2006

After the fashion, the flower portraits were my favorites of the exhibit.  I have one more photo that I have to post.  I was unable to get a good shot, but I'm going to show it anyway as the subject matter is so interesting.

Theatre Accident, New York, 1947

Obviously, a woman has spilled her bag, but take a look at the contents.  A cigarette, a pillbox and three different kinds of pills!  I love it.  A woman's bag probably has the same contents today, but in our sanitized culture, you would never see it.  And if you did, there would be a big to do about bad influences, inappropriate content and all that nonsense.

This is a great show.  If you love photography or fashion, I urge you to get to the Met to see the show before it closes on July 30th.  If you are not local, the show catalog is very well done and I believe contains everything in the exhibit.

Just for fun, here are the wiki pages for a few of the models.  They are not well known today, but they were really the first supermodels.

Lisa Fonssagrives

Jean Patchett

Dorian Leigh

Marisa Berenson


  1. Most popular city New York. Thanks for this blog aboout the Exhibition, it will be biggest hit of all time. Keep sharing good work. Thanks

    1. Thank you so much! Glad you enjoyed the post. I'll have a few other exhibition recaps up soon.

  2. Wow, this deserved to be in museum, these photos are proof of skills of the photographer. Every photo is amazing, thank you for sharing it with us

    1. You're very welcome! It really was an amazing show and Mr. Penn was so talented.

  3. thnkas for sharing.hotmail.com this designing is wonderful