Supermodels and Seduction: 50 Years of Fashion Photography

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After World War II, American fashion photography garnered attention around the globe, particularly through the inventive images of Irving Penn, who joined the staff of American Vogue in 1943. In the late 20th century, Helmut Newton, Albert Watson and Herb Ritts re-energized the field with their iconic images of supermodels, such as Christy Turlington and Alek Wek. These and other legendary artists will be included in Sotheby’s upcoming Photographs auction. Click ahead to view Associate Specialist Kelly Sidley’s selections that attest to the symbiotic relationship between designer, model and photographer.

Supermodels and Seduction: 50 Years of Fashion Photography

  • Irving Penn, 'Vionnet Dress with Fan' (New York). Estimate $30,000–50,000.
    In the mid-1970s, Penn began to take images for a photographic essay that appeared in his book with Diana Vreeland, Inventive Paris Clothes, 1909-1939: A Photographic Essay (1977). This Grecian-style dress was designed by Madeleine Vionnet, who is known for her precisionist use of the bias cut. In this series, Penn chose to use mannequins instead of live models in order to highlight the artistry of the clothes. The whimsical peacock feathers and insouciant, low-cut back of the gown contrast with the form of the plastic figure and grey backdrop.

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  • Albert Watson, 'Christy Turlington, New York City.' Estimate $7,000­–10,000.
    Scottish photographer Albert Watson, who has shot more than a hundred covers of Vogue and 40 covers of Rolling Stone, is renowned for his astute portraits that capture the essence of his subjects. In this image, the master printmaker contrasts the smooth, clean beauty of supermodel Christy Turlington with the ethereal wisp of smoke curling from her mouth.

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  • Herb Ritts, Alek Wek, Los Angeles. Estimate $15,000–25,000.
    Alek Wek has recounted that this image was taken on the roof of legendary fashion photographer Herb Ritts’s Los Angeles studio. After covering her statuesque figure in liquid latex and grease, vegetable pieces were placed on her head to create a stylized mohawk. When this photograph was taken just before the turn of the new millennium, the twenty-year-old Wek exemplified a more inclusive ideal of beauty in the fashion world. She had recently arrived in London from South Sudan and was relatively new to modeling when she worked with Ritts for the first time. This photograph was made for the annual Pirelli calendar, which Ritts conceived as a celebration of women of all ages. He presciently titled this image ‘the future.’

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  • Irving Penn, 'Woman in Chicken Hat (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn) (A).' Estimate $70,000–100,000.
    In Penn’s striking profile image of Swedish model Lisa Fonsagrives, his soon-to-be wife emanates grace and calm – attributes that starkly contrast the free-spirited design of her feathered hat. Penn was a master at transforming common materials and objects to give them extraordinary presence. From farm to film, Penn’s chicken hat lends a surrealist, Hitchcockian air to this studio portrait.

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  • Helmut Newton, '"Tied Up Torso," Ramatuelle.' Estimate $40,000–60,000.
    This mesmerizing image first appeared in French Vogue in November 1981 when Helmut Newton – renowned for his photographs of sexually risqué scenarios and sado-masochistic fantasies – was at the height of fame. Here, a brunette dominatrix wearing black leather gloves is physically and psychologically unconfined by the rope binding her torso. This quintessentially Newtonian photograph visualizes the artist’s admiration for strong, confident women.

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  • Irving Penn, 'Black and White Vogue Cover' (Jean Patchett, New York). Estimate $150,000–250,000.
    This image was first published on the cover of the April 1950 issue of American Vogue as the lead illustration for its feature article, ‘The Black and White Idea.’ The succinct caption for the photograph reads, “Newest proof of a well-grounded adage: there is no colour more brilliant than black and white.” With it’s simple yet potent use of clean lines, symmetry and positive and negative space, Black and White Vogue Cover is one of the boldest, most innovative covers in the magazine’s history. In fact, it was the first non-color Vogue cover in nearly twenty years. Over the course of his six-decade career with the glossy, Penn’s photographs graced an additional 164 covers, more than any other artist in the magazine’s history.

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  • August Sander, Secretary at a Radio Station, Group of 3 Images. Estimate $30,000–50,000.
    Although the German artist August Sander was not a fashion photographer, his gimlet eye found quiet detail and palpable tension in this 1931 portrait of a secretary in Cologne. She exemplifies the postwar concept of the neue frau, or modern woman, with her sleek, cropped hair, unstructured dress, brazen smoking and working-girl status.

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  • Irving Penn, 'Woman in Palace (Marrakech, Morocco, Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn).' Estimate $100,000–150,000.
    While many of Penn’s fashion photographs were composed in his studio, where his subjects were usually positioned against seamless paper backgrounds, Penn also traveled on assignment for Vogue, including a 1951 trip to Morocco. Here, Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn, whom the photographer married in 1950, perches in Bahia Palace in Marrakech, its interior resplendent with Moorish tiles and exquisite details. Her simple white turban and dark cloak, designed by Jean Dessès, allow the fantasy of the location to take center stage.

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