Irving Penn (1917-2009), an American photographer, impacted the art industry with his innovative and redefined approach to fashion portraiture. Characterized by meticulous detail, his work redefined fashion and elevated the realm of portrait photography. Penn’s early collaboration with Vogue magazine propelled him to the forefront of fashion photography. In his portraits, subjects often posed for extended periods against plain backdrops, employing naturalistic lighting that combined his eye for sophistication and directness. This is exemplified in iconic series like his Corner Portrait series, featuring prominent social, cultural, and political figures––Salvador Dalí, Louis Armstrong, Isamu Noguchi, and David Bowie––positioned in tight corners, encouraging freedom in their expression and movement. The enduring popularity of Penn’s work can be attributed to his remarkable ability to infuse innovation with elegance, capturing not just images but the very essence of the personalities of his subjects.

Born in New Jersey in 1917, Penn enrolled at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art, where he met the photographer Alexey Brodovitch. In 1938, he moved to New York to assist Brodovitch, beginning his portrait work on his Rolleiflex. By 1943, he worked with Alexander Liberman at Vogue, who encouraged him to explore fashion photography. This resulted in an impressive 163 Vogue covers taken by Penn. These images gained international renown not only for featuring iconic figures like Pablo Picasso, Spike Lee, and Marcel Duchamp but also for Penn’s ability to reveal the personality of his subjects, imbuing liveliness while retaining precision and aesthetic control. In 1950, Penn commenced his Small Trades series, documenting laborers in New York, Paris, London, and eventually globally in Morocco, New Guinea, Dahomey, and Nepal. Concurrently, he explored new avenues, capturing female nude torsos, experimenting with the printing process, and bleaching images to achieve a chiaroscuro effect. The 1960s witnessed his expansion beyond fashion, delving into still life with expansive series on flowers and later exploring cigarette cases and butts. His perfect blend of precision and expressiveness continues to captivate audiences, making Irving Penn a timeless force in photography.

His first solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1945 made his first significant recognition. He has numerous shows beyond that at the National Portrait Gallery, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Smithsonian Institution, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. He has received numerous accolades, including the Art Directors Club in 1964 for outstanding fashion photography achievements and the Master of Photography Award from the International Center of Photography in 1985.

Selected Works
Art Fairs

Send me more information on Irving Penn

Please fill in the fields marked with an asterisk
Receive newsletters *

* denotes required fields

In order to respond to your enquiry, we will process the personal data you have supplied in accordance with our privacy policy (available on request). You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time by clicking the link in our emails.