Irving Penn - Photographs London Wednesday, May 25, 2022 | Phillips

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  • '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.


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


    Throughout the course of his life, Penn became known for his stunning still lifes and breathtaking portraits – Bedside Lamp combines both these modes. Set against the stark white background typical of many of his photographs, the lamp’s arm juts into the frame, the shade opens 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. Showcasing the lamp as it takes on a life of its own, Penn draws the viewer’s eye to the subtle reflections in the object that he first spotted all those years ago waiting for him on the sidewalk.

    • Provenance

      Hamiltons Gallery, London
      Sotheby's, London, 19 May 2016, lot 77

    • Literature

      ‘The Mighty Penn’, Vogue US, July 2007, p. 137
      M. A. Foresta, ed., Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty, New Haven: Yale, p. 221, pl. 158

    • 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


Bedside Lamp, New York

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

Full Cataloguing

£40,000 - 60,000 

Sold for £50,400

Contact Specialist

Department Contacts 

Rachel Peart
Head of Department, London

Yuka Yamaji
Head of Photographs, Europe

General Enquiries
+44 20 7318 4092


London Auction 25 May 2022