Irving Penn - Photographs Evening Sale New York Wednesday, April 1, 2015 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

  • Catalogue Essay

    “A Penn photograph has an immediacy, an impact, and communicates a clear signal of what it is about.” - Alexander Liberman

    Irving Penn’s Black and White Fashion with Handbag (Jean Patchett) (C), New York was taken in 1950, less than a year after the young American photographer was commissioned by Vogue to photograph the Paris haute couture collections for the first time. By then, Penn had been with the magazine for eight years, during which he worked under legendary editor Alexander Liberman. Decades later, Liberman would recall Penn’s skillful innovation: “Penn immediately plunged into the vital question of inventing ‘his’ light, a key to a personal statement different from the accepted unreality of the fashion photography of the period: overburdened backgrounds, theatrical lighting.” Editorial images by the leading photographers up until then were largely over-stylized, and heavy-handed in their narratives. Penn’s minimalist counterapproach was, by his own humble admission, ignorance—lacking the art historical savoire faire in styling his shoots. Consequently, cumbersome and indulgent sets were replaced by stark, luminous tents. The resulting images, perhaps for their serendipitous nature, were striking in their clarity and simplicity, allowing the readers to closely study and appreciate the couture. For Penn, the clothes were not about telling an underlying story, but about the elegance of line and the grace of silhouette.

    As Vogue’s leading fashion photographer in the Post-War years, Penn collaborated with some of the most popular models of the period to create his trailblazing work. The current lot depicts Jean Patchett, among Penn’s favored models and a widely acclaimed beauty. Black and White Fashion with Handbag (Jean Patchett) (C), New York, is one of only a handful of images from the photoshoot that Penn would later select for printing. The celebrated shoot was remarkable for its sparse, minimalist aesthetic, which allowed Penn to showcase his strength and distinct vision. In the image offered in the current lot, the hat’s concentric circles are echoed by the straps of the handbag, and the model’s pose and head tilt jointly create a series of intersecting diagonals. The resulting image emphasizes the structured nature of the outfit, the crisp line of the designs, and the undeniable finesse of the garment. As a fashion work it is at its most quintessential—and successful—in its ability to extricate the bare minimum to produce an image of striking elegance and effortless timelessness. Nearly seventy years later, the image appears as fresh and exciting as the day it was first made.

    This is the first time this image has been offered at auction.

  • Artist Biography

    Irving Penn

    American • 1917 - 2009

    Arresting portraits, exquisite flowers, luscious food and glamorous models populate Irving Penn's meticulously rendered, masterful prints. Penn employed the elegant simplicity of a gray or white backdrop to pose his subjects, be it a model in the latest Parisian fashion, a famous subject or veiled women in Morocco.

    Irving Penn's distinct aesthetic transformed twentieth-century elegance and style, with each brilliant composition beautifully articulating his subjects. Working across several photographic mediums, Penn was a master printmaker. Regardless of the subject, each and every piece is rendered with supreme beauty. 

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Black and White Fashion with Handbag (Jean Patchett) (C), New York

Gelatin silver print, printed 2003.
15 3/4 x 15 1/8 in. (40 x 38.4 cm)
Signed, titled, dated, initialed twice in ink, copyright credit (courtesy Vogue) reproduction limitation, credit and edition stamps on the reverse of the mount. One from an edition of 17.

$50,000 - 70,000 

Sold for $106,250

Contact Specialist
Vanessa Kramer Hallett
Worldwide Head, Photographs

Shlomi Rabi
Head of Sale, New York

General Enquiries:
+1 212 940 1245

Photographs Evening Sale

New York 1 April 2015 6pm