Richard Avedon - Photographs New York Thursday, April 8, 2021 | Phillips

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  • In a career replete with remarkable images, Richard Avedon’s Dovima with elephants, Evening dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, stands out as a masterpiece. Made in 1955, on assignment for Harper’s Bazaar, this tour-de-force showcases Avedon’s uniquely inventive approach. Very few photographers working for the fashion magazines in the 1950s had Avedon’s intuitive ability to create an image that was novel and exciting but also served the editorial purpose of showcasing couture. With its brilliant mélange of disparate elements, Dovima with elephants set an entirely new bar for fashion photography that has still not been surpassed.


    In August of 1955 Avedon traveled to Paris once again to photograph the couture collections. Fellow photographer Sam Shaw invited him to the set of Trapeze, a movie melodrama set under the big-top starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, which was shooting at the historic Cirque d’Hiver. Avedon was given a tour that included the Cirque’s animal enclosures, and he immediately grasped their potential as the setting for a photo shoot. On the day of the shoot, Avedon masterfully choreographed an ensemble of stylists, assistants, and animal trainers, along with his American model, Dovima, who was sheathed in a sleek gown with flowing sash designed by the young Yves Saint Laurent for the House of Dior. The resulting image, of the elegant model posed against the massive rough forms of the elephants, is both incongruous and exhilarating.


    With its appearance the following month in Harper’s Bazaar, illustrating ‘Carmel Snow’s Paris Report,’ Dovima with elephants created a new standard by which fashion photographs would be judged. In a quote that seems to apply directly to this image, Harper’s art director and Avedon’s mentor Alexey Brodovitch succinctly summed up the young photographer’s unique talents: 'The shock-surprise in his photos is the ingredient that has always given his work freshness and excitement. He has an amazing ability to spot the unusual and exciting qualities in each woman he photographs. This, combined with his tremendous imagination, makes his work so exceptional' (U.S. Camera Annual, 1956).

    • Literature

      Harper’s Bazaar, September 1955, p. 215
      Avedon & Brodkey, Avedon Photographs, 1947-1977, back cover and pl. 159
      Avedon, Woman in the Mirror, p. 36
      Fraenkel Gallery, Richard Avedon: Made in France, n.p.
      Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Avedon Fashion: 1944-2000, p. 137
      Random House, Evidence, 1944-1994: Richard Avedon, p. 53
      Bailey & Harrison, Shots of Style: Great Fashion Portraits, cat. no. 7
      Davis, An American Century of Photography, From Dry-Plate to Digital: The Hallmark Photographic Collection, pl. 368
      Gee, Photography of the Fifties: An American Perspective, p. 84
      Hall-Duncan, The History of Fashion Photography, p. 137
      Harrison, Appearances: Fashion Photography since 1945, p. 73
      High Museum of Art, Chorus of Light: Photographs from the Sir Elton John Collection, p. 189
      J. Paul Getty Museum, Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography, pl. 111
      Mazzola, 125 Great Moments of Harper’s Bazaar, pl. 3
      Taschen, 20th Century Photography: Museum Ludwig Cologne, p. 29
      The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion, p. 50

    • Artist Biography

      Richard Avedon

      American • 1923 - 2004

      From the inception of Richard Avedon's career, first at Harper's Bazaar and later at Vogue, Avedon challenged the norms for editorial photography. His fashion work gained recognition for its seemingly effortless and bursting energy, while his portraits were celebrated for their succinct eloquence. "I am always stimulated by people," Avedon has said, "almost never by ideas." 

      Indeed, as seen in his portraits — whether of famed movie stars or everyday people — the challenge for Avedon was conveying the essence of his subjects. His iconic images were usually taken on an 8 x 10 inch camera in his studio with a plain white background and strobe lighting, creating his signature minimalist style. Avedon viewed the making and production of photographs as a performance similar to literature and drama, creating portraits that are simultaneously intensely clear, yet deeply mysterious.

      View More Works


Dovima with elephants, Evening dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, August, 1955

Gelatin silver print, printed later.
23 1/8 x 18 3/4 in. (58.7 x 47.6 cm)
Signed, numbered 24/50 in pencil, title, date, edition and copyright credit reproduction limitation stamps on the reverse of the linen flush-mount.

Full Cataloguing

$150,000 - 250,000 

Sold for $189,000

Contact Specialist

Sarah Krueger
Head of Department, Photographs

Vanessa Hallett
Worldwide Head of Photographs and Deputy Chairman, Americas



New York Auction 8 April 2021