Irving Penn - Photographs New York Tuesday, April 4, 2023 | Phillips
  • "It is perhaps not too much to say that in Penn’s prints the descriptive resources of the photographic gray scale have never been more fully exploited."
    —John Szarkowski

    Beginning in 1964, Irving Penn began experimenting with platinum printing. Penn had spent his career up to that point making photographs which were seen almost exclusively in reproduction within the glossy pages of magazines and in his pivotal 1960 book Moments Preserved. Penn set himself the challenge of producing photographic prints that would surpass the technical limitations of reprographic media and deliver a deeper visual experience. He was drawn to the antiquated platinum process for its long gray scale – its ability to display a seemingly infinite array of gradations between pure white and absolute black.


    The platinum process requires direct contact with the negative, without enlargement, so Penn first needed to create flawless negatives the same size as the desired print. He then hand-coated paper with platinum emulsion. When dry, the paper was sandwiched with the negative and exposed to light before processing. Rigorous experimentation revealed that recoating a print with a secondary emulsion and making a second or third exposure of the same image on a single sheet of paper yielded prints of greater depth and subtlety. Penn solved the problem of aligning and re-aligning the negative and the print surface over multiple exposures by borrowing a technique from the graphic arts: he mounted his paper on a sheet of aluminum with a series of registration guides along the top edge. Penn was guarded about the preparation of his emulsions and his precise formulations varied considerably. He frequently introduced palladium and iron salts into his coatings to achieve desired effects.


    Penn made this platinum-palladium print of Harlequin Dress (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn) in 1979. His notations on the reverse show that the print was made on Rives paper and coated and exposed twice. It is a perfect illustration of the delicacy and expressive breadth of the platinum process and showcases Penn’s assured mastery as a photographic printer. Like all of Penn’s work in the medium, it is an entirely handmade object and is deliberately unique in its tonality and interpretation of the source image. 

    • Provenance

      Marlborough Gallery, New York, 1980s
      Acquired from Arthur Penn, 2003

    • Literature

      American Vogue, April 1950, pp. 86-87
      Szarkowski, Irving Penn, pl. 49
      Art Institute of Chicago, Irving Penn: A Career in Photography, pl. 44
      Angeletti and Oliva, In Vogue, p. 146
      Centre National de la Photographie, Vanites, p. 45
      Gee, Photography of the Fifties: An American Perspective, p. 154
      Hall-Duncan, The History of Fashion Photography, p. 153
      High Museum of Art, Chorus of Light: Photographs from the Sir Elton John Collection, p. 190

    • Catalogue Essay

      Other prints of this image are held in various collections, including at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C. and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.

    • 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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Harlequin Dress (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn)

Platinum palladium print, printed 1979.
19 1/2 x 18 1/2 in. (49.5 x 47 cm)
Signed, titled, dated, numbered 25/30, annotated in pencil, Condé Nast copyright credit reproduction limitation and edition stamps on the reverse of the aluminum flush-mount.

Full Cataloguing

$200,000 - 300,000 

Sold for $355,600

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Chairwoman, Americas


New York Auction 4 April 2023