Posts Tagged ‘Erwin Blumenfeld’

Auction | Playing with the Female Form

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Modern & Contemporary Photographs
Hotel Drouot, Paris, France
Auction: 30th October, 2013
Private previews: by appointment until 25th October, 2013
Exhibition: Hotel Drouot
29th October & 30 October, 2013


Above, Purple Nude. Erwin Blumenfeld, New York, 1940
€1,500–2,000


Distorsion #159. Andre Kertesz, Paris, 1933
€8,000–10,000


The works about to go on show in Centre Pompidou’s Surrealism & the Object (30th October 2013 – 3rd March 2014) demonstrate that objects were the main preoccupation of the surrealist movement. The human body was another, but often, as in Man Ray’s photograph The coat-stand (1920) – one of the exhibits – the body, almost invariably female, was itself objectified.

Ray’s image of Jean Cocteau, showing the artist with his sculpture Débourre-pipes (1928, not shown), the floating, decapitated head of a woman sculpted in wire, is one of almost 300 lots in a varied sale of Modern & Contemporary Photographs at Hotel Drout in Paris, in which an array of early travel photography, modernist interiors, Parisian and American street life, glamour portraits, and portraits of a good number of other famous artists, will be auctioned.

A total of 44 photographs by André Kertesz, from a Swiss collection, exude a strong presence amongst the list of lots. In 1930, Carlo Rim, the editor of the magazine VU, asked Kertész to take his portrait. Kertész, who was already experimenting with distortion, persuaded Rim to do it at the hall of distorting mirrors at Luna Park fun fair in the Bois de Boulogne. Shortly after, a pair of portraits of Rim – one with an overly tapered body, the other making him appear dwarfed – appeared together in VU.

The idea of using distortion in art probably had its genesis in the African and Polynesian wood carvings that had begun to appear in Europe in the late 19th century, the influence of which was absorbed and first exploited by Picasso and later by, among others, Henry Moore, as well as the surrealist sculptor, Giacometti. For many artists, exploring distortion was also a way of dealing with the atrocious mutilations that were the legacy of the Great War.

During the early years of the new century, women had begun to demand, and had won, greater freedom for themselves. Parisian women, during the 1920s, were the first to be released from the corset by Coco Chanel and, in the same decade two-piece bathing costumes, which were little more than a bra and skimpy shorts set, began to appear on the French Riviera. Nudes, as the subjects of ‘tasteful’, artistic photography were becoming less taboo, which led to magazine editors in France becoming more daring. And, impressed by the distorted portraits he saw in VU, the editor of the rather racy Le Sourire (Smile) magazine asked Kertész to make a series of distorted nude images of two female models. However, the editor didn’t – or was not allowed – to publish them, and it wasn’t until 1976, when they appeared in the book André Kertész Distortion (Editions du Chêne Paris), that they became one of the photographer’s most famous series. A number of images from this series, including the bizarre and disturbing Distortion #159, (above), and some of Kertész’s earlier, experimental prints are also included in the sale.


Les Jeux de la Poupée. Hans Bellmer, 1935
€1,000–1,500



Nu blanc. Jeanloup Sieff, Paris, 1967
€2,000–3,000


Gog et Magog. Pierre Molinier, c 1965
€2,500-3,000


As a child, in Germany, Hans Bellmer, (1902-1975) found refuge from an oppressive family atmosphere in a secret garden decorated with toys and visited by young girls, who joined in sexual games. In the 1920s he became involved with the Dada movement, and in 1933, built his life-sized Puppe (Doll) sculpture, a representation of his yearning to escape from the reality of Nazi Germany. In 1934, he published ten photographs of this work accompanied by a prose poem in which he demonstrated how the seemingly innocent pastimes of his childhood had developed into the sexual fantasies of an adult. Acclaimed and adopted by the Parisian surrealists in 1935, he published a French translation of Die Puppe – La Poupé. That summer he altered the sculpture giving it ball-joints to allow for increased mobility – the stomach became a large sphere around which two pelvises could be articulated, each with its own legs and feet – pushing it into the area of distortion. The auction includes a hand-tinted print, made in 1970, entitled Les Jeux de la Poupée (1935, above), and dedicated to Man Ray.

Meanwhile, in a theatrical form of distortion, former landscape painter, who quickly turned to fetishistic/erotic photography, Pierre Molinier’s (1900-1976) Gog et Magog photomontage (1965, above) typically, placing her in a sexy stage set, removes his model’s body, reducing her to a head at the crux of four stockinged legs, each terminating in patent and pointed stilletto-heeled shoes. With something akin to Molinier’s staging, for Jean Paul-Goude’s Grace Jones Revised and updated (1978, not shown, a print is included in this sale), each of the black singer’s limbs, as well as her neck, are slimmed down, stretched and given a highly-polished finish, so that she resembles a life-size, semi-naked, art-deco-inspired, carved mahogany figure.


Nude. Weegee (aka Arthur H Fellig) New York, c 1940
€1,200–1,500


One of the surprises in the Hotel Drout event is a sensitive nude study (above), shot in the studio around 1940, by Weegee (aka Arthur H Fellig) – better known for his stark black and white New York street scene photojournalism. In the 1950s Weegee experimented with distortion, producing nudes, including Nude (easel trick and plastic lens) c 1953-6, which appeared in the book Weegee’s Women, (Showplace, first published, July 1956), in which the model appears to have extremely long, giraffe-like legs, and Marilyn Monroe (plastic lens) c 1960, where a beautiful initial image of MM pursing her lips, eyes closed, as if waiting for the camera to kiss her, is altered in a succession of distortions, rendering her unrecognisable.

Rare examples of male distortion, two of Philippe Halsman’s (1906-1979) famous images of Salvador Dali (not shown), from the photographer and artist’s 1954 collaboration ‘Dali’s Mustache’, will also go under the hammer.

Lot #175, Jeanloup Sieff’s (1933-2000) thin, twisted and angular Nu blanc (1967, above) might be a template for the figure of the modern woman that has proliferated via women’s fashion magazines since the 60s, whereas Erwin Blumenfeld (1897-1969) who is represented in the sale by Purple Nude (1940, top) proves that the visual dismemberment of a female model need not invoke feelings of revulsion, but rather that by careful and sympathetic reconstruction, a sphisticated image of subtle and elegant female beauty can be created.


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The publishers of The Blog insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees which may, under any circumstances, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

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Photography | Studio Erwin Blumenfeld

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

Blumenfeld Studio: New York, 1941-1960
Somerset House
London, UK
23rd May – 1st September, 2013

Day and night I try, in my studio with its six two-thousand watt suns,
balancing between the extremes of the impossible, to shake loose the real from
the unreal, to give visions body, to penetrate into unknown transparencies.

Erwin Blumenfeld (1897-1969)

With around 100 colour photographs as well as archive material from fashion magazines, this show at Somerset House focuses on the work Erwin Blumenfeld – one of the most influential, innovative and sought-after fashion photographers of the 1940s and 1950s – produced at his studio in New York.

Born into a Jewish family in Berlin, Blumenfeld began taking photographs when he was just ten years old. His first job was as an apprentice dressmaker, but between 1916 and 1933 he produced dadist montages in Germany, where he was closely associated with George Grosz, before moving first to Holland, then to Paris in 1936, where he met Cecil Beaton, who got him an introduction to Vogue. However, as a result of his publishing bitingly mocking collages of Adolf Hitler, Blumenfeld spent the occupation years in a concentration camp, eventually fleeing Europe with his family for the United States in 1941. In New York he worked in the studio of Martin Munkacsi until his own career started to flourish. Taken up by Russian emigré art director Alexey Brodovitch, who was fostering  the development of an expressionistic, almost primal style of picture-making at Harper’s Bazaar, Blumenfeld continued to work for Vogue, gaining him a reputation as the highest paid freelance photographer in New York. He went on to produce advertising campaigns for top cosmetics clients such as Helena Rubinstein, Elizabeth Arden and L’Oreal.

Blumenfeld had a passion for the female form, which he expressed through headily erotic images in which mirrors, gauzy fabrics, screens, wet silk and elaborately contrived shadows and angles were used to enhance or discreetly mask the body. He became a master of complex studio photography and developed sophisticated techniques of solarisation and superimposition that, even today, continue to influence photographers. The renowned fashion photographer Sølve Sundsbø recently commented: ‘Blumenfeld was shooting 60 years ago what the rest of us will be shooting in 10 years time’.

Images from top
City Lights

Support for the Red Cross
American Vogue cover, March, 1945

Grace Kelly
Cosmopolitan, 1955

Spring Fashion
American Vogue, 1953

All images ©The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld


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The Blog is about art, architecture, gardens, books, design and anything else that currently interests us which we think might interest you

The publishers of The Blog insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees which may, under any circumstances, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

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Dada’s Cubist Garden

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Hyères 2011. 26th International Festival of Fashion & Photography
Festival ends today. Exhibitions continue to 29th May,
(NB Villa Noailles closed from Tuesday 3rd to Thursday May 5th included)
Villa Noailles, Hyères, Var, France.


Erwin Blumenfeld, Powder box,
study for an advertisement, circa 1944
© The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

Daniel Sannwald, 032c, 2010

The journey had taken almost two hours. I had driven there on a whim from Nice, where I was staying, but the Villa Noailles was closed to visitors that day. Despite all my best efforts, I was unable to blag my way in. I would have liked to have seen the shows. It was totally my fault and, let’s be honest, unprofessional of me not to have contacted the Villa’s press people beforehand. I should at least have checked the opening times. I had gone there, however – it was outside the area of my itenerary – not specifically to see the exhibitions. Having arrived I had wanted to look around the early modernist house, built by architect Robert Mallet-Stevens for art patrons Arthur Anne Marie Charles, Vicomte de Noailles and his wife, Marie-Laure Bischoffsheim, between 1923 and 1925. But the real reason behind my visit was to see the triangular cubist garden designed by Turkish-born Gabriel Guevrekian, its Turkish designer who had worked with Joseph Hoffman in Vienna and was later to work with Le Corbusier

A selection of images by pioneer of creative photography between the wars, Erwin Blumenfeld’s work forms part of the this year’s festival exhibitions at the villa. Born in Berlin, Blumenfeld was a participator in the Dadaist movement and was to become an ardent denouncer of the Nazis. After having begun working for French Vogue in 1940, he was imprisoned in several concentration camps before escaping to the US in 1941, where his collaboration with Harper’s Bazaar – where Alexei Brodovitch was art director – which had started in 1939, continued until 1944. He subsequently worked for US Vogue and was, at the time, reputed to be the most highly-paid photographer in the world. Fashion Photography: Erwin Blumenfeld was published in January 2011 by Phaidon.

A more contemporary contributer, also born in Germany – in 1979 – and producing experimental fashion and beauty photography, Daniel Sannwald’s work is sometimes hauntingly surrealistic and at other times, vividly expressionistic. Sannwald works with numerous numerous magazines, amongst them: Dazed & Confused, i-D, L’Officiel Paris,Vogue Hommes Japan, and V magazine. He has photographed projects for Louis Vuitton, Nike, Loewe, Adidas, Replay, and Shiseido. His book, Pluto and Charon was published in February 2011 by LuDIoN Editions.

… I had struggled to get the car to climb the steep hill to the villa, perched high above medieval Hyères, and was pleased that my journey had not been wasted. Neither the garden – though a little scruffy – nor the exterior of the villa – rather unsympathetically extended – disappoint. My pictures, below, appeared in Germany’s prestigious architecture and living magazine Architektur & Wohnen; some of these also formed part of a major feature, illustrated exclusively with my photographs of the gardens of the Cote d’Azure, which appeared in the UK edition of Condé Nast Traveller.

Have you visited the Villa Noailles?
What did you think of it?

Please leave a comment

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