Irving Penn - Photographs London Friday, May 19, 2023 | Phillips
  • “The mask. . . is protection against revelation.”
    —Saul Steinberg

    Deviating from his corner portraits of the 1940s, where sitters were confined by a physical space, Irving Penn (1917-2009) shifted to an open backdrop throughout the 1950s and 1960s, with sitters confined not by space, but by the tighter framing of Penn’s lens. Steinberg in Nose Mask is emblematic of this new format, which, with its clean white backdrop, gives all focus on the subject, but with an ironic twist: Steinberg poses in one of his celebrated paper masks. The duality of a masked portrait grants anonymity while resulting in a quintessential portrait of Steinberg who was described by art critic Harold Rosenberg as ‘a virtuoso of exchanges of identity’ whose art was ‘a parade of fictitious personages.’


    Steinberg is best known for his illustrations for The New Yorker, including over 85 covers and 642 drawings, most famously his View of the world from Ninth Avenue, 1976, which depicts Manhattan as the centre of the world. The dual themes of persona and disguise were constants throughout his art. He once remarked people in America ‘manufacture a mask of happiness for themselves.’ Other prints of this image are held in The Metropolitan Museum of Art and National Portrait Gallery.

    • Provenance

      Phillips, New York, 3 October 2017, lot 312

    • Literature

      J. Szarkowski et al., Irving Penn, New York: MoMA, 1984, pl. 143
      I. Penn et al., Passage: A Work Record, New York: Knopf, 1991, p. 158
      Irving Penn: Portraits, London: NPG, 2010, cover, n.p.
      Irving Penn: Centennial, New York: Met, 2018, p. 281

    • 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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Steinberg in Nose Mask, New York

September 30, 1966
Selenium toned gelatin silver print, printed 1984, mounted.
39.3 x 38.7 cm (15 1/2 x 15 1/4 in.)
Signed, initialled, titled and dated in ink, credit, 'Condé Nast' copyright credit reproduction limitation and edition stamps on the reverse of the mount. One from an edition of 15.

Full Cataloguing

£10,000 - 15,000 

Sold for £21,590

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London Auction 19 May 2023