Helmut Newton's Amazons

Highlighted in our 4 April Photographs auction, we reflect on how one of Newton’s most iconic works revolutionized fashion photography.

Highlighted in our 4 April Photographs auction, we reflect on how one of Newton’s most iconic works revolutionized fashion photography.

Installation view of Helmut Newton Sie Kommen, Paris (Dressed and Naked), 1981 © The Helmut Newton Estate / Maconochie Photography

Sie Kommen, Paris (Dressed and Naked), the title for Helmut Newton’s stunning diptych, translates from German to English as “they are coming.” It is an imposing diptych of four super-women on the march. Posed exactly in the same way in the left and right halves, they are triumphant and empowered both in their high fashion suits and in their nudity. Further, the present lot is a rare exhibition-sized printing, which imbues the models with a towering presence, and places all who stand before this monumental installation in the path of the models’ powerful, verging on dangerous, beauty.

First used as a two-page spread in French Vogue in 1981, Sie Kommen, Paris marked a turning point in Newton’s work. Newton started working for French Vogue in the 1960s and had become famous for introducing erotic subjects to fashion photography. In his earlier work, the location in which he photographed his models added to the sexual fantasy of his images, but with Sie Kommen, Paris, Newton left the lush interiors and streets of Paris and shot his subjects in a studio. In Sie Kommen (Dressed) we see the interior of the studio where the white backdrop touches the floor. In contrast, in Sie Kommen (Naked) the clothes disappear with the exception of high heels, and the studio becomes a boundless white space. As Karl Lagerfeld once noted, it is only with high heels that “. . . a woman [is] really naked for Newton.” With no supporting props the dressed and naked models become the whole story. Anne Tucker, who curated the first American retrospective of Newton, said “Big Nudes, for me, is where he steps away from the fashion magazines and came into his own on what a Helmet Newton woman was. . . Look at the way these women are boldly striding in these pictures. . . They are Amazons.”

Look at the way these women are boldly striding in these pictures. . . They are Amazons. — Anne Tucker

One can only imagine the effect such a subversively powerful image had on the public when it first appeared in French Vogue. Since then, Sie Kommen, Paris, has become an icon and has been illustrated extensively. It is the centerfold image in Newton’s provocative book Helmut Newton: Big Nudes, 1990. In his introductory essay for Big Nudes, Karl Lagerfeld states that for Newton “. . . there is no ‘weaker sex’. . . His women are part of a ‘strong’ sex.” Lagerfeld goes on to discuss the three periods of Newton’s life: the Berlin of his youth, “his spiritual home” from which Newton fled in 1938 after the horrors of Kristallnacht (during which his father was interned); “the unknown mysterious Australian period” where Newton enlisted in the Australian army; followed by Paris, where he arrived “in 1956 in a white Porsche with red leather upholstery." It is in the fashion world of Paris that Newton created this enduring image of sex, glamour, and female power, which boldly resonates from this exceptional presentation of Sie Kommen, Paris.

Our New York Photographs auction will take place on 4 April 2019 at 450 Park Avenue. Works from this sale, including the present lot, will be on view in our galleries from 27 March - 3 April.