Elegance and Humour by Norman Parkinson

By Irene Gonzalez

N orman Parkinson, whose works feature in Sotheby's Made in Britain sale on 18th September, was an eccentric and charming British photographer who revolutionised fashion photography. He established his studio in 1934 and following World War II he quickly became one of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue’s most important photographers. Heavily influenced by Hungarian photographer Martin Munkacsi whose freewheeling style captured the speed and movement of the 1930s. Parkinson took this a step further by leaving the formal studio behind. He ventured with the models into the real world, including the city and exotic locations, in order to search for this dynamism.

Widely known for having a good eye for talent, Parkinson discovered models such as Grace Coddington, Jerry Hall and Nena von Schlebrügge. The latter is the subject of the playful diptych, Coming and Going, Nena von Schelebrügge, British Vogue, September 1958 included in the upcoming Made in Britain sale this September. Von Schlebrügge, who is actress Uma Thurman’s mother, was spotted by the photographer as a teenager in Stockholm. Two years after their first encounter, von Schlebrügge moved to London to pursue a career in modelling. In these striking images, the young Nena is wearing one of Yves Saint Laurent's first collections for Christian Dior as well as a coat by Estrava.

Parkinson’s style was easily recognisable as his shots were elegant yet humorous compositions, which were later accompanied by a wide range of vibrant colours. This can be seen in the stunning mural sized photograph Apollonia van Ravenstein, 1973. This exact photograph was exclusively printed for inclusion in the Vogue 100: A Century of Style exhibition of 2016 at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Norman Parkinson, Apollonia van Ravenstein, 1973 . Estimate £10,000–15,000

Parkinson worked closely with only a handful of models with whom he shared a vision. Apollonia van Ravenstein, Dutch model and actress, was amongst them. Some of Parkinson’s most famous photographs of the 1970s feature her. During this decade, he changed his backdrops to exotic locations featuring white sanded beaches and turquoise waters. The change was made in an effort to constantly update and reimagine the world of fashion photography. This stunning chromogenic print was part of the editorial he shot in 1973 in Barbados for Vogue, at the home of celebrated artist and designer Oliver Messel. Van Ravenstein recalled that, ‘He had me on rafts, climbing rocks, riding giant sea turtles.’ Undoubtedly, Parkinson’s most notable feature was his versatility to include apparent opposing feelings of elegance and humour into the same photograph to produce outstanding surrealist images.

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