Richard Avedon - Photographs New York Wednesday, October 7, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist

  • Literature

    Look, 9 January 1968 as a pullout portfolio
    High Museum of Art, Chorus of Light: Photographs From The Sir Elton John Collection, p. 24
    Random House, Richard Avedon: Evidence 1944–1994, p. 150 for the pullout portfolio

  • Catalogue Essay

    On a summer day in August 1967, the same year that saw the release of Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, 3 years after their first United States tour, five years after their United Kingdom breakthrough with Love Me Do, and just three years before their much lamented breakup, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr gathered with Richard Avedon at the Thompson House penthouse in London for a Look portrait sitting. At the time, Avedon had already established himself as a pioneer in the field of fashion photography, portraiture and journalism. His work was celebrated by the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. in his first solo museum exhibition in 1962 and he was just two years into his contract at Vogue, which he joined after a twenty year tenure at Harper’s Bazaar. It was the summer of love, and it found both the Beatles and Avedon at the height of success, the result of which is an enduring and masterful portrait of the musicians in their prime.

    By the time of the sitting, Beatlemania had reached its peak on both sides of the Atlantic, with eight LP’s released, millions of albums sold worldwide, and an appointment to Members of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in 1965. Further, their 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, was received by thunderous reviews and enormous commercial success. Still considered by many as one of the most revolutionary albums in music’s history, it showed the bands overwhelming ability to innovate and experiment with beat and sound. The record includes influences from psychedelic rock to rhythm & blues, classical music, and country, which combined, yields a sound that is most emphatically theirs.

    The contrast of the band’s experimentalism with music and Avedon’s already characteristic minimalism with portraits could not have been more severe. Avedon chose to highlight this contrast by selecting a gray background as opposed to his more heavily utilized white seamless. The choice, was a very conscious one, as he commented: “I only used gray when its Victorian romanticism conflicted with the subject matter.” But more than that, “A gray background does seem to refer to something”, commented Avedon, "a sky, a wall, some atmosphere of comfort and reassurance – that a white background doesn’t permit. With the tonal background, you’re allowed the romance of a face coming out of the dark.” By using the gray background, which he also selected for portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Andy Warhol, Avedon thus allows for an even more intimate reading of the portrait, with the focus on expression and posture, the details of the faces which, by this point, were familiar to all on a global scale. Additionally, the use of a consistent background allowed the four individual pictures to be collaged together to give the effect of the Beatles as one cohesive unit; showing them as a band at maturity, with members whose talents were as accomplished together as they soon would be independently. This collaged image was included as a special “pullout portfolio” in the 9 January 1968 issue of Look.

    The set of four portraits offered as the present lot was printed in 1988 and is believed to be among the first sets of the Beatles printed in this format. It was released to the market as a private order, prior to both the formal edition of 12 as well as the dye transfer edition, both of which were realized two years later in 1990.

  • 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


The Beatles, London, August 11

Four gelatin silver prints, printed 1988.
Each 23 1/4 x 19 in. (59.1 x 48.3 cm)
Each signed and dated in stylus on the recto; each signed, titled 'Paul McCartney', 'Ringo Starr', 'George Harrison', 'John Lennon', respectively, annotated 'London', dated in pencil and copyright credit reproduction limitation stamp on the verso.

$300,000 - 500,000 

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New York Auction 8 October 2015