Horst: Photographer of Style is set to run from September 6, 2014 until January 4, 2015 at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. The retrospective will span Horst’s entire career with a display of the photographer’s best-known photographs alongside unpublished and rarely exhibited vintage images.
The 20th century German-born photographer, Horst P. Horst (Horst Paul Albert Bohrmann) or as he is known by his familiar one-word byline, Horst, was deemed as one of the most artistically significant photographers of his day. His elegantly produced images spanned a 60- year period from 1931 through 1991. Horst creativity delved into the realms of photography, art, fashion, design, theater and society, primarily in New York and Paris.
The Horst exhibit will convey the diversity of his work, from his surrealist still lifes and Hollywood celebrity portraits to natural forms, nude studies and Middle East documentary work. The retrospective will follow the creative process using several of Horst’s photographs, including Mainbocher Corset, with the addition of original contact sheets and sketches. Alongside haute couture, the exhibit will highlight 250 photographs and 90 Vogue magazine covers, film footage and ephemera.
Inspired by everything from ancient Classical art to Bauhaus principles of modern design and Surrealism, Horst photographed the exquisite creations of Coco Chanel, Madeleine Vionnet and Elsa Schiaparelli in 1930s Paris. He was also instrumental in the launch of numerous models’ careers such as Helen Bennett, Suzy Parker and Lyla Zelensky.
Director of the V&A, Martin Roth commented that the retrospective “will shine a light on all aspects of his long and distinguished career” and demonstrate how his influence is unmistakable in other creatives such as Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber and Robert Mapplethorpe.
The photographer’s first breakthrough into fashion was on the pages of British Vogue in early 1932. The issue featured three fashion pages and a full-page portrait of the art patron of Surrealism, Sir James Dunn’s daughter.
The retrospective opens with the 30s displaying vintage black and white photographs from the Paris Vogue archives. In addition, it refers to Horst’s move to Paris and his early experiments in the Vogue studio. Garments in black, white, silver and gold by Parisian couturiers such as Lanvin and Molineux will accompany the black and white images.
Horst’s Surreal-inspired works and his collaborations with Salvador Dali and Elsa Schiaparelli are the next focus. Photographs will include his poignant still lifes and trompe l’oeil portraiture. During this period, Horst captured film stars that included Ginger Rogers, Vivien Leigh, Marlene Dietrich and Rita Hayworth among others.
By the late 30s and early 40s, the photographer began to experiment with early color techniques and his methodically composed and artfully lit images enlivened the magazine pages.
The advent of color brought a new approach to his photographic style, and he excelled at working with color transparencies for portraiture and fashion shoots. Horst went on produce over 90 Vogue covers and numerous pages in vibrant color. A grouping of 25 large color photographs has been printed from color transparencies in the Condé Nast archives. The images will demonstrate Horst’s exceptional skill as a colorist. The museum prints feature models from the 40s and 50s, such as Muriel Maxwell, Carmen Dell’Orefice and Dorian Leigh. They will be juxtaposed with preparatory sketches that have not been previously exhibited.
His career transversed both the prosperity of pre-war Parisian high fashion to the upswing of post-war ready-to-wear in New York. His photographic style evolved from an extravagant studio set-up to a more ascetic setting by end of the 20th century.
During the 40s and 50s, Horst extensively traveled to Iran, Syria, Israel, Italy and Morocco. Seeking a diversion from his world of city life and fashion, Horst’s lesser-known photographs reveal his captivation in ancient cultures, architecture and landscapes. Examples of his travels will include Persepolis Bull and his documentary photographs of the nomadic Qashqai clan’s annual migration.
Horst’s Patterns from Nature project concentrated on flowers, shells and butterfly wings, and will be shown alongside a series of kaleidoscopic collages using photographs in a simple repeat pattern. The photographer had hoped that his patterns would be commercially translated into designs for wallpaper, carpets, textiles, glass and plastics.
In 1951, the New York Vogue studios closed, and a year later, Horst’s photographic style received disapproval from the new Vogue editor. The photographer distanced himself from the studio and worked more frequently on location, as post-war trends started to encourage more natural plein air shots. He photographed everything from the German conductor, Herbert von Karajan in Austria to Ian Fleming in Kitzbeubel.
The photographer once again shifted his focus in the early 60s. He took his first architectural and interior photographs, which included some of the world’s most beautiful and luxurious homes for Vogue and House and Gardens including Karl Lagerfeld’s Art Deco apartment, artist Cy Towmbly’s Roman palazzo, Consuelo Vanderbilt and Yves Saint Laurent’s homes.
Later in life, Horst’s artistic expression experienced resurgence with exhibitions, books, and television documentaries. He created platinum-palladium prints for the collector’s market and museums. Exemplary works of his career will be highlighted as the retrospective finale.
It has been said that Horst P. Horst’s photographic career reached Old Master status when Madonna paid a postmodern tribute to the photographer by recreating his most iconic fashion image – the partially fastened, back-laced corset – for Vogue in 1990.
However, Horst had an epic career. For him, there was little distinction between life and work. In 1991, he told The New York Times about his time in Paris. “We never thought of it as fashion…It was l’élégance the way we lived.” Identifying the glamour of the interwar era, Horst was determined create a world wherein his subjects were enigmatic and captivating. As a photographer of style, Horst was a key contributor and participant observer.
By Dawn Levesque