LONDON.-The National Portrait Gallery, London, presents Vanity Fairs Portraits: Photographs 1913 – 2008, on view through May 26, 2008. Some of the greatest portrait photographs of the twentieth century were taken for, or published in, Vanity Fair. This remarkable selection of 150 classic images features works from the magazine's first period (19131936), displayed for the first time with works from the contemporary Vanity Fair (1983-present).
In the first period, celebrated subjects such as Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin and Jean Harlow are shown in portraits by legendary photographers, among them Edward Steichen, Cecil Beaton, Baron De Meyer, Man Ray and George Hurrell. From the magazine's re-launch in 1983, the works of photographers including Annie Leibovitz, Helmut Newton, Bruce Weber and Mario Testino are featured, depicting a wide range of subjects from Arthur Miller to Madonna.
From the beginning, British, Irish and American authors were frequently profiled and their writings published in Vanity Fair, and among the vintage portraits shown in the exhibition are iconic images of H.G. Wells, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Rebecca West, Ernest Hemingway and George Bernard Shaw. The magazine's mix of artistic seriousness and popular celebrity meant that commissioned portraits of these authors and artists such as Claude Monet, Augustus John and the leaders of the avant-garde (photographed by Man Ray), were displayed alongside profiles of actors, musicians and athletes.
In addition to showing the works of acknowledged leaders in early portrait photography, Vanity Fair Portraits features the works of now lesser-known practitioners, among them the great British-born theatre photographer, Florence Vandamm. Her portrait of American actress Alice White and her group portrait of the Albertina Rasch Dancers, both taken in the late 1920s, remind us of her singular talent and re-establish her in the canon of great portrait photographers of the early twentieth century.
Vanity Fair Portraits presents a rare opportunity to see some of the definitive portraits of the 'Jazz Age', including now classic studies of Louis Armstrong, Josephine Baker and Noël Coward. The selection of portraits also includes some previously unpublished and unseen images, including two portraits of author Virginia Woolf from a sitting with photographers Maurice Beck and Helen MacGregor in 1924.
Although Vanity Fair suspended publication in 1936, it would be resurrected in another period of decadence and excess, the 1980s. Once again, its purpose was to record modern men and women of culture, stature and talent and, as in the early period, portrait photography was the graphic bedrock of the magazine. In the tradition of editor Frank Crowninshield (1914-36), the revived monthly commissioned the world's leading portrait photographers, among them Helmut Newton, Nan Goldin, Herb Ritts, Harry Benson, Mario Testino, Jonathan Becker and Bruce Weber.
Vanity Fair's iconic photographs continue to make news. Since the magazine's re-launch in 1983, cover images including the Reagans dancing (1985), a very pregnant Demi Moore (1991), a formal portrait of President Bush's Afghan War Cabinet (2002) and most recently actresses Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley photographed naked (2006) have been embedded in the collective cultural consciousness.
The name of one photographer has become synonymous with modern portraiture - Annie Leibovitz. In advance of the National Portrait Gallery hosting an exhibition devoted entirely to her work (Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life 19902005, 16 October 200825 January 2009), Vanity Fair Portraits presents some of her most enduring images in the context of the magazine's photographic history.
Leibovitz has become the dominant image-maker of Vanity Fair, just as Edward Steichen dominated Vanity Fair's first period. Steichen (1879-1973), who created an unrivalled gallery of portraits of the dominant personalities of the 1920s and 1930s, has a worthy successor in Leibovitz and Vanity Fair Portraits is the first major exhibition to display their works together. Photographs by Steichen in the exhibition include portraits of Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, Anna May Wong and Paul Robeson. Photographs by Leibovitz, from the several hundred shoots she has done for the magazine, include portraits of Miles Davis, Kate Winslet, Lance Armstrong and some of the best examples of the group portraits that have become so closely associated with the magazine.
Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs 1913-2008 is sponsored by Burberry.
Of this historic exhibition combining the early and contemporary periods of Vanity Fair's photographic history, Editor Graydon Carter says: 'It's only fitting that the august National Portrait Gallery will present the first exhibition of Vanity Fair's iconic portraits. To have all of the works displayed together will serve as a remarkable photographic history.'
Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery says: 'Vanity Fair Portraits offers the perfect combination of great subjects and great photographers: an essential who's who of the past hundred years.'
Christopher Bailey, Creative Director of Burberry, says: 'It is a great privilege to be able to continue the Burberry history of supporting the arts. It is particularly exciting on this occasion to be working with the iconic magazine, Vanity Fair, and once again, with the renowned British institution that is the National Portrait Gallery.'
The exhibition is curated by David Friend, Editor of Creative Development, Vanity Fair and Terence Pepper, Curator of Photographs, National Portrait Gallery, London.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, priced £25 paperback. Including reproductions of all works shown in the exhibition, the catalogue features a number of additional images as well as essays on the history of Vanity Fair's commissioning of photographs by celebrated journalist and Vanity Fair contributor, Christopher Hitchens, David Friend and Terence Pepper. The catalogue will be sold exclusively at the National Portrait Gallery and at the tour venues.
Vanity Fair Portraits will tour to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh (14 June 21 September 2008); Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles / LACMA (26 October 2008 1 March 2009); and the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, Australia (May August 2009).
The National Portrait Gallery will be publishing a companion volume - Vanity Fair: The Portraits - to celebrate the 25th and 95th anniversaries of the magazine. Featuring over 350 illustrations, this major hardback title will be launched in the book trade in Autumn 2008 to coincide with the opening of the Vanity Fair Portraits exhibition at LACMA. Harry N. Abrams, America's leading art and illustrated books' publisher, will distribute the title in North America and Canada.