Recently Philbrook Museum of Art
opened The Hollywood Portraits of George Hurrell to the public. With photographs drawn from the Museums permanent collection, this exhibition features stunning black-and-white portraits of Hollywood legends like Gary Cooper, Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo, and many more. Exclusive to Philbrook, this show is located on the mezzanine level.
George Hurrell both captured and created the idealized world of movie glamour, becoming a prominent practitioner of the photographic portrait genre. In the 1930s and 40s with Hollywood mystique at its zenith, still photography became invaluable in conjuring the rarified image of the movie star as impossibly beautiful, supremely sophisticated and desirable on a global scale. A Hurrell portrait, wrote Esquire magazine in 1936, is to the ordinary publicity still what a Rolls Royce is to a roller skate.
"These photographs, beautiful in their own right, celebrate the work of a significant 20th century artist and demonstrate the variety within the Philbrook permanent collection, commented Chris Kallenberger, Philbrook Director of Collections and Exhibitions. When paired with the spectacular Nocturne radio (one of ten known in existence) they truly evoke a glamorous time and place forever cemented in the popular psyche."
Born in 1904, George Hurrell studied at the Chicago Art Institute before going to work for the great portrait photographer Eugene Hutchinson. In 1925, Hurrell moved to Laguna Beach, California, where he became acquainted with various artists, actors and socialites. His initiation into Hollywood was as dramatic as his subjects. Actor Ramon Navarro (featured in the exhibition), delighted with the photographs Hurrell made for him, showed them to his friend Norma Shearer. Shearer was desperate to play the part of a sexy siren in a picture her husband Irving Thalberg was making. Thalberg didnt think she was the type and Shearer was determined that Hurrells photographs could change that. The plan was more than successful: Shearer got the part and MGM immediately hired Hurrell, launching his Hollywood career.