Irving Penn - Photographs London Wednesday, May 18, 2016 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Hamiltons Gallery, London

  • Literature

    ‘The Mighty Penn’, Vogue US, July 2007, p. 137
    M. A. Foresta, ed., Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty, Smithsonian American Art Museum/ Yale, p. 221, pl. 158

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘For all those years, I turned my head and the lamp was there. That’s my lamp. This picture is a love letter.’
    Irving Penn

    Walking past a junk shop in the early 1940s, Irving Penn spotted a brass lamp on the sidewalk and immediately snapped it up. This common household item remained with him for the rest of his life. In 1992 after his wife Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn died and he moved back to New York City, the lamp was the first thing he set up in his new home. In Penn’s own words: ‘If I’m in bed, it’s always next to me. It’s a warm light, and somewhat warm in giving off heat. It’s a wonderful thing’.

    15 years later, in July 2007, Vogue released a special issue in commemoration of Irving Penn’s 90th birthday. For the article, ‘A Mighty Penn’, honouring the photographer’s 60-year association with the magazine, the editors selected the current lot Bedside Lamp— a portrait of the lamp he had bought in his early days at Vogue. As he explains in the article, ‘I decided the lamp was my closest friend. I wanted to celebrate my friendship by making a portrait of it’. Vogue’s celebration of Penn’s genius was accompanied by a stunning portrait of this simple object.

    Set against the stark white background typical of many of Penn’s photographs, the lamp’s arm juts into the frame, the shade open like a flower to reveal the mysterious light and the rainbow of colours reflected in the brass from the single bulb. It is a curiously personal image and one of the last made by Penn. As Anna Wintour puts it, ‘The light doesn’t fail. The unrecognisable beauty in our lives is revealed and Irving’s gifts to us will never end’.

    The lamp, that staple tool of the photographer’s craft, is rarely featured as the subject of a photographic image. Like a painting of the artist’s own palette, a photograph of a light can feel uncanny and oddly revealing. Bedside Lamp is not simply a deeply private portrait of one of Irving Penn’s most prized possessions, but also a surreal reminder of the manifold inflections of light in the oeuvre of this great artist.

    Throughout the course of his life Irving Penn became known for his stunning still lifes and breathtaking portraits. Bedside Lamp combines both these modes. He showcases the lamp as it takes on a life of its own, drawing the viewer’s eye to the subtle reflections in the object that Penn first spotted all those years ago waiting for him on the sidewalk.

  • 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. 

    View More Works

Property from the Collection of Paul and Toni Arden


Bedside Lamp, New York

Pigment print.
73.3 x 57 cm (28 7/8 x 22 1/2 in.)
Signed, titled, dated, initialled in ink, copyright credit reproduction limitation, credit and edition stamps on the reverse of the flush-mount. One from an edition of 17.

£40,000 - 60,000 

Sold for £55,000

Contact Specialist
Genevieve Janvrin
Head of Photographs, Europe
+44 20 7318 4092


London Auction 19 May 2016