Richard Avedon - PHOTOGRAPHS New York Friday, October 8, 2010 | Phillips

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  • Literature

    Avedon and Capote, Observations, p. 106; Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Woman in the Mirror: Richard Avedon, n.p.; International Center of Photography and The Richard Avedon Foundation, Avedon Fashion: 1944-2000, p. 87; Lahr, Performance: Richard Avedon, p. 65; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Richard Avedon Photographs 1946-2004, n.p.

  • Catalogue Essay

    The magic in Richard Avedon’s body of work, especially his portraits, lies in his ability to detect and extract with a surgeon’s precision the core of his sitters’ being. The portraits, therefore, are far more than a static outline of physical likeness. Rather, they are akin to an expressive brushstroke or a stardust trail that bears the unequivocal genetic code of the sitter without necessarily bearing a heavy-handed depiction of a familiar—or worse, clichéd—portrayal. Essence, therefore, takes precedence over matter, and spirit trumps resemblance. This could underline Avedon’s assertion that “All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.” The latter, it would seem, is encumbered by the omnipresent weight of subjectivity, which Avedon cleverly used to his advantage. A portrait’s honesty, Avedon appears to have taught his viewers, is in the eye of the beholder. Brigitte Bardot, Hair by Alexandre, Paris Studio, (Lot 64) was shot in 1959, only a few years after the French siren burst into the forefront of American socio-sexual consciousness following her star turn in the film And God Created Women. The brilliance of the image could be attributed to its effortless simplicity, or rather, its illusion thereof. Avedon avoided the easy baits in portraying Bardot—bodacious curves, exposed back, exotic settings—in favor of merely focusing on her face. The cropping of all superfluous elements extended to the strong lighting, which dramatically reduced Bardot’s facial features to their most basic—a seductive gaze and a cushy pout—revealing not only Bardot’s sexual confidence but also Avedon’s coincedence in capturing Bardot’s sensuality. To further heighten the drama and provide an additional shock of sex appeal, Avedon double-exposed Bardot’s famous mane to create the appearance of sudden movement, framing the delicate facial features in a cascade of swaying, rippling waves. This allowed Avedon to cleverly jolt viewers out of their comfort viewing zone and shamelessly command a closer look, and consequently, awe. It is also in Marella Agnelli, New York Studio, December, 1953, (Lot 68) that through cropping and manipulation, Avedon imbued his sitter with a sense of preternatural monumentality. The world-class beauty and Neapolitan princess (née Donna Marella Caracciolo di Castegneto and later grand matriarch of the renowned Turin-based Agnelli clan), was famous for what fashion illustrator Joe Eula had termed “the most gorgeous neck in the world.” As he had done with Bardot a few years later, Avedon resisted the predictable signifiers of wealth and aristocracy—dazzling jewelry, embroidered silk sashes and illustrious interiors—and focused on the impossibly elegant silhouette of his sitter. By elongating the neck just past the point of normalcy, turning the body into a single, graphic stroke, and relying on chiaroscuro lighting, Avedon created an image that majestically captures the graceful aura of his sitter.

  • 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.

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Brigitte Bardot, Hair by Alexandre, Paris Studio

Gelatin silver print, printed 1959.
23 1/4 x 20 in. (59.1 x 50.8 cm).
Signed and numbered in ink in the margin; title, date and credit reproduction stamp on the verso. One from an edition of 35.

$100,000 - 150,000 

Sold for $170,500


8 October 2010
New York