Irving Penn - Photographs London Friday, May 19, 2023 | Phillips
  • ‘‘The best for pictures were country people who came to Cuzco from the valleys below or from the hills above to spend a few days shopping in town. Christmas there is not a major holiday; the pagan Fiesta del Sol is more important. But at Christmas there is simply a great market, mostly of toys and sweets for the children.’’ 
    —Irving Penn 

    Taken while on assignment for Vogue in Peru in December 1948, Irving Penn’s (1917-2009) Cuzco Children, depicting a brother and sister, is a humble and natural ode to the human self rather than to just a different culture. The subjects, while barefoot and dressed in clothes that differed from those of their contemporary Western counterparts, appear accessible and familiar. Gone is the erstwhile exoticisation with which South American children had been traditionally photographed, namely, holding wildflowers, exotic fruit and feral animals. Here, the siblings are shown leaning against a small side table for support; their hands are linked over the table, alluding to their co-dependence as they confidently gaze back at the camera. It is not a look of pride that they give, but instead, one of asserting presence.  


    The Cuzco portraits mark a pivotal point in Penn’s career in both subject matter and style. Up until then, he photographed famed figures in a confined corner he had erected in his studio. However, the Cuzco portraits were devoid of such spatial confinement and the sitters were common people. For the first time, his subjects were free to present themselves as they wished and not in reaction to a given physical specificity. It was this opening in spatial and intellectual ways that prompted Penn, upon his return from Peru, to take down the studio walls and allow his subjects to simply be.

    • Provenance

      Hamiltons Gallery, London
      Galerie Rodolphe Janssen, Brussels, 1998

    • Literature

      I. Penn, World in a Small Room, London: Secker & Warburg, 1980, p. 13 (variant)
      J. Szarkowski, Irving Penn, New York: MoMA, 1984, pl. 59 (variant)
      I. Penn, Passage: A Work Record, New York: Knopf, 1991, p. 61 (variant)
      I. Penn, A Notebook at Random, New York: Bulfinch, 2004, p. 91 (variant)
      M. Haworth-Booth, The Folio Society of the 100 Greatest Photographs, London: Folio Society, 2006, p. 153 (variant)
      Irving Penn: A Career in Photography, Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 2007, pl. 37 (variant)
      Irving Penn: Centennial, New York: MoMA, 2017, pl. 118 (variant)

    • 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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Cuzco Children, Peru

Gelatin silver print, printed 1949, mounted.
26.5 x 26.2 cm (10 3/8 x 10 3/8 in.)
Signed, titled, dated, annotated in ink, 'Condé Nast' copyright credit reproduction limitation, credit and edition stamps on the verso. One from an edition of 8.

Full Cataloguing

£15,000 - 25,000 

Sold for £17,780

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London Auction 19 May 2023