Irving Penn ‘Mouth (For L’Oréal), New York’, 1986

Thursday, April 28, 2016
Irving Penn ‘Mouth (For L’Oréal), New York’, 1986

An exceptional selection of fashion photographs will come under the spotlight at Sotheby’s in London on 19 May 2016.

Irving Penn ‘Mouth (For L’Oréal), New York’, 1986

Works by the mid-20th-century modern fashion photographers Irving Penn and Richard Avedon will be offered for sale alongside images by Helmut Newton, Peter Lindbergh and Guy Bourdin, together with examples by contemporary photographers such as Miles Aldridge and David LaChapelle. Timed to take place alongside the second edition of Photo London, Sotheby’s Photographs sale showcases iconic fashion images from the 20th century through to the present day, offering both seasoned and budding collectors the opportunity to acquire works from masters of the medium who each in their own way redefined fashion photography.

An all-embracing visual culture has pushed fashion photography into the spotlight over the last five years. Classic works by famous names such as Avedon, Newton, Penn and Lindbergh have become highly sought after, alongside modern-day photographers including Miles Aldridge. By breaking the rules, Penn and Avedon pushed fashion photography into the realm of fine art, paving the way for today's masters in the field.

In July 1950, Vogue sent Irving Penn to Paris to photograph the Fall couture collections. Clothes by the most coveted fashion houses were brought to Penn’s studio where he photographed the glamour against the backdrop of an old theatre curtain. Known for his pared-down style, Penn often photographed models in ordinary locations with natural lighting. His inclusion of the edge of a backdrop – something that is typically designed to dissolve into the background – gives a sense of the space of the studio. The photographs marked a revival in fashion photography that stemmed away from the staged and unnatural, by throwing the beauty of the fashion and the model into greater relief. This photograph features model Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn wearing a mermaid dress by designer Marcel Rochas. As Penn’s muse, just weeks after this photo was taken the pair were married.

Penn’s breath-taking Mouth (For L’Oréal), from an edition of 28, is rarely seen at auction and Sotheby’s sale represents only the third time this work has come under the hammer. His portrayal of female lips marks a legacy of timelessly elegant photographs which captured an unexpected and surreal beauty. Smeared with numerous shades of lipstick, the lips appear to mimic an artist’s palette. The model’s somewhat ironic pout suggests that Penn aimed to mock the concept of traditional ‘perfect beauty’ as presented by beauty brands.

Irving Penn ‘Mouth (For L’Oréal), New York’, 1986 Dye-transfer print, printed 1992 Estimate: £180,000-230,000. Courtesy: Sotheby's 

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