Richard Avedon - Photographs London Tuesday, November 22, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “I've photographed just about everyone in the world. But what I hope to do is photograph people of accomplishment, not celebrity, and help define the difference once again.”
    —Richard Avedon 
    Issued in a discrete edition and rendered in the intensely saturated colours of the dye-transfer process, Richard Avedon’s portraits of The Beatles leverage the photographer’s unfailing eye for the cultural moment and capture the genre-defying impact of four of the 20th century’s most significant musicians. Richard Avedon’s The Beatles Portfolio, first published in Look magazine in January 1968, is as much a collective portrait of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr as it is of the decade in which it was made. The musicians and the photographer were at the height of their abilities when they came together in a penthouse studio in Thompson House, London, in August of 1967, to make these images, and the resulting portraits represent a collaboration of visionary proportions.


    By 1967, Avedon had established a formidable reputation as a fashion and portrait photographer at Harper’s Bazaar, where he had worked under Alexey Brodovitch from 1945 through 1965. This two-decade period saw a multitude of social and cultural changes and, as the conservative tide began to turn in the 1960s, Avedon’s work remained at the visual vanguard in terms of form and content, and continually challenged photography’s conventions. In doing so, not only did Avedon embrace the changing norms, but more so, pushed them to the forefront of the general consciousness.


    The Beatles had followed their own remarkable trajectory throughout the 1960s. Having sold millions of albums worldwide, The Beatles had reached an unprecedented level of stardom and been appointed Members of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1965. When they convened in London to be photographed by Avedon in 1967, they were coming off a remarkable run of releases – Rubber Soul (1965), Revolver (1966), and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) – each of which pushed the expressive boundaries of popular music and recast rock-and-roll as the artform of the moment. With these albums, the group increasingly employed experimental recording techniques and incorporated orchestral, Indian and other non-western musical influences. Sgt. Pepper marked the culmination of this period and stands today as one of the great musical accomplishments of the 20th century.


    Avedon’s approach to photographing The Beatles in the aftermath of Sgt. Pepper’s release marked a surprising and profound departure from the austerity of his trademark approach. His fashion and portrait photographs were characteristically shot in front of a pristine, seamless white backdrop and rendered in crisp black-and-white prints. The Beatles, progenitors of an entirely new musical experience and avatars of the cultural zeitgeist, clearly required a different treatment. Avedon made the bold choice to photograph the band in colour and then employ an array of photographic techniques – most notably solarisation to yield images that transcend portraiture and rise to the level of icons.


    Each member of the group bears his own specific attribute: John Lennon wears glasses that seemingly gaze into an interior infinity; Paul McCartney embodies flower power; George Harrison displays an all-seeing eye on his palm; and Ringo Starr holds the ultimate symbol of peace: a white dove. Avedon’s portraits borrow productively from the psychedelic iconography of the day and channel the lysergically saturated lightshows seen at rock concerts to create a visual analogue of The Beatles’ sound. The Beatles Portfolio encapsulates the unique creative energies of the band and showcases Avedon’s ability to craft compelling imagery that is of its own time and, simultaneously, for the ages.


    Look, January 1968, cover 
    Look, January 1968, cover 


    Advertisement for the Look Poster editions, designed by Richard Avedon.
    Advertisement for the Look Poster editions, designed by Richard Avedon.
    • Provenance

      Directly from the artist
      Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, 2001

    • Literature

      Look, January 1968, cover & pp. 33-34, 39 & 40
      R. Avedon, Evidence, 1944-1994, London, Jonathan Cape, 1994, p. 151
      Avedon: The Sixties, New York: Random, 2007, cover & pp. 27-28, 31 & 33
      R. Avedon, Performance, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2008, pp. 250-251

    • 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 Portfolio: John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and Paul McCartney, London

Four dye transfer prints, printed 1990.
Each 54.9 x 44.1 cm (21 5/8 x 17 3/8 in.)
Each signed and numbered 5/6 in ink in the margin; each signed, numbered 5/6 in pencil, copyright credit reproduction limitation, title, date and medium stamps on the verso.

This work is number 5 from the edition of 6 + 3 APs. As of this writing, the other sets from the edition are all held in various collections.

Full Cataloguing

£700,000 - 900,000 

Sold for £809,000

Contact Specialist

Rachel Peart
Head of Department, London

Yuka Yamaji
Head of Photographs, Europe

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+44 20 7318 4092


London Auction 22 November 2022