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(1917 – 2009), United States

Irving Penn Biography

Irving Penn was an enormously influential fashion, portrait, and still life photographer whose commercial work was widely seen in magazines like Vogue or The New Yorker throughout the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.

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Early Years

Penn trained as a painter and designer at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (1934–1938), while also working with Harper's Bazaar director and teacher Alexey Brodovitch on a student summer holiday job. Penn took a year off to do painting in Mexico, returned to do some graphic design projects in New York, and was then hired by Alexander Liberman to shoot cover images for Vogue.

Irving Penn Artworks

Penn's streamlined, meticulously lit images with carefully positioned models quickly gained him a reputation for elegance and wit, be they on the cover, in articles, or in glossy advertisements. Many were in black and white, including Black and White Vogue cover (Jean Patchett), New York (1950); Debut Couture Shoot for Vogue (1943); Vogue, December, 1995 (1995); and Vogue, September, 1991 (1991). Some were in soft delicate colour, like the covers for Vogue U.S. November 1949; Vogue, May 1946; and Vogue, October 1943. Others combined the two, as seen in the covers for Vogue U.S., September 1983 and Vogue, December 1943.

He used a daylight studio with an old theatre curtain for the background, which created a diffuse, soft ambience. After he began travelling, he usually used a Leica camera.

Penn also became successful with his celebrity portraits, devoting time and conversation to allow his subjects to relax so he could pick the precise moment. Notable portraits include Woman with Long Black Neck (Jean Patchett), New York (1951), Marcel Duchamp (1948), and Salvador Dali, New York (1947).

Range of Interests

Later in the 1960s Penn travelled widely to make ethnographic studies of various 'exotic' communities. Resulting photographs include Cuzco Children (1960), Two New Guinea Men Holding Hands (1970), and Sitting Enga Woman (1970).

On other occasions, he documented tradespeople working in London, Paris, and New York, the images appearing in the pertinent city editions of Vogue. See, for example, Small trades (1951).

In the late 1970s his enlarged images of discarded objects became popular, as did his shots of wilted or dead flowers. These included detritus such as the cigarette butts in Cigarette No.85 (1972) and Cigarette No.8, New York (1972), or the flowers in Poppy, Barr's White, New York (1968).

In 1964 Penn developed a distinctive darkroom technique, drawn from the 19th century, for making platinum-palladium prints. This involved using a cotton rag paper with ultraviolet light for contact printing and applying the platinum emulation with a brush. It creates usually soft, warm tones.

Publications

Penn's photographs have been published in several printed collections, including New and Unseen (1999), People in Passage (1992), Worlds in a Small Room (1974), and Moments Preserved (1960).

Exhibitions

Irving Penn has been the subject of many and group exhibitions.

Recent solo exhibitions include Irving Penn, Small Trades, 1960's San Francisco, Fashion, Corkin Gallery, Toronto (2021); Irving Penn: Photographism, Pace, New York (2021); Irving Penn, Pace, New York (2019); Irving Penn: Paintings, Hamiltons Gallery, London (2019); Irving Penn, RMN Grand Palais, Paris (2017); Irving Penn; Beyond Beauty, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C. (2015).

Recent group exhibitions include The Great and the Good, Hamiltons Gallery, London (2022); Feast, Atlas Gallery, London (2021); Facing Forward: Photographing Diversity, Holden Luntz Gallery, Palm Beach (2021); Thirty Years Paris, Thaddeus Ropac, Paris (2020); Masters of Photography, Huxley-Parlour, London (2019).

Collections

Penn's work is held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; and the Irving Penn Foundation, New York.

Website

The Irving Penn Foundation website can be found here.

John Hurrell | Ocula | 2022

Irving Penn
featured artworks

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Five Okapa Warriors by Irving Penn contemporary artwork photography
Irving Penn Five Okapa Warriors, 1972 Platinum-palladium print flush-mounted to aluminum, printed 1972
19.62 x 19.5 inches
Bruce Silverstein Request Price & Availability
Summer Sleep by Irving Penn contemporary artwork print
Irving Penn Summer Sleep, 1949 Dye transfer print
50.8 x 60.6 cm
Pace Gallery
Poppy: Barr's White by Irving Penn contemporary artwork photography
Irving Penn Poppy: Barr's White, 1968 Pigment print mounted to board
49.5 x 44.5 cm
Pace Gallery
Pear with Seeds (A) by Irving Penn contemporary artwork sculpture
Irving Penn Pear with Seeds (A), 1993 Platinum palladium print mounted to aluminium
40.3 x 60 cm
Pace Gallery
Still Life with Food, New York by Irving Penn contemporary artwork photography
Irving Penn Still Life with Food, New York, 1947 Cibachrome print
7 5/8 x 9 5/8 inches
Pace Gallery
Early Hippies, San Francisco by Irving Penn contemporary artwork photography
Irving Penn Early Hippies, San Francisco, 1967 Platinum palladium print mounted to aluminium
Pace Gallery
Rock Groups, San Francisco by Irving Penn contemporary artwork photography
Irving Penn Rock Groups, San Francisco, 1967 Gelatin silver print mounted to board
Pace Gallery
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Irving Penn
recent exhibitions

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Represented by these
Ocula Member Galleries

Pace Gallery contemporary art gallery in 540 West 25th Street, New York, United States
Pace Gallery Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo +3
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