© Words - Siane Daley

The V&A Gallery presents the definitive retrospective exhibition of renowned photographer Horst P Horst, (1906-1999). Curated by Susanna Brown and sponsored by American Airlines, the exhibition comprises of over 250 photographs, haute-couture garments, magazines and rare archive-footage of Horst at work at the Vogue studios. The exhibition celebrates Horst's many collaborations throughout his 60 year career, which creatively traversed the worlds of photography, art, fashion, design, theatre and high society.

As Martin Roth, Director of the V&A says, "Horst was one of the greatest photographers of fashion and society, and produced some of the most famous and evocative images of the 20th Century. This exhibition shines a light on all aspects of his long and distinguished career. Horst's legacy and influence, which has been seen in work by artists, designers and performers including Herb Ritts, Robert Mapplethorpe, Bruce Weber and Madonna, continues today".
Born in Germany in 1906 to middle-class parents, Horst left Germany in 1930 and moved to Paris where he met Baron George Hoyningen-Heune, a photographer at French Vogue. Heune became Horst's mentor, and Horst immersed himself in the creative world of 1930's Paris. It is also at this time that Horst met Cecil Beaton, and visited the Louvre in Paris where the ancient Classical Art was to have a lasting impact on his work.

The exhibition features work from this period, including portraits of Victor Stiebel, Lee Miller, and Princess Karam of Kapurthala. The "Night at Schonbrunn" series features striking portraiture shots of Madame Edouard, Comtesse Gerard de Moustier, Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg and Count Charles de Beistegui.


The series of photographs titled "Shooting London Stars" includes a Helena Rubenstein advert. The opening of her salon in 1915 reflected the influence of Hollywood films which disseminated beauty ideals,  and the cosmetics industry grew as a result. Other advertisement photographs include Mary Stutz with Carmen dell Orefice modelling Cartier jewellery, and Gloria Vanderbilt modelling a Howard Greer dress. Also included are a Saks Fifth Avenue and a Bergdorf-Goodman advert from 1938.

There are also signed vintage photographs of Lisa Fonssagrives, a model whom Horst first photographed in 1936 which helped launch her modelling career. Speaking in 1976, Fonssagrives says of Horst's work, "I feel such soothing blessings by your beautiful work - even more so today when we live in a sea of flickering snapshots, bombarded from everywhere"  In "Nuit Blanches" featuring Cora Hemmet, the photo perfectly showcases how 1930's couturiers used silk and satin on the body to resemble classical sculpture. Displayed nearby are haute-couture gowns in shades of black,white, silver and gold, by Parisian couturieres; Lanvin, Molyneux, Schiaperelli, Vionnet and Chanel.

As a young photographer, Horst wanted to experiment with photographic effects to create dark, atmospheric photos. In "Extremes meet at Paris: Spring Collections" this desire is evident; however this creative sentiment clashed with Vogue magazine. Editor Edna Woolman Chase sent a memo to staff which read, "I have been lecturing Horst about the lack of light in his photography. We have to overcome this desire on the part of our photographers to shroud everything in deepest mystery".

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In "Trompe de loeil L'Oeil Still Life's", the impact of the Surrealist Art Movement and its transition into fashion, design and advertising is revealed here. Horst's photos capture mysterious, whimsical and surreal elements, notably in the photographs "Hand Gesture" and "Waxed Beauty". The photograph "Electric Beauty" features a model wearing a face mask, with electric cords attached to her body whilst immersing her feet in a bowl of water. This was a satirical comment on the extreme beauty treatments that prevailed during the 1930's. Included here are portrait photos of Salvador Dali and Gala Dali, both taken in 1943,  a handwritten letter to Horst from Dali and several  photographs of Dali's murals.
Horst's collaboration with Dali is shown in the photograph "Dali composes a photograph", American Vogue 1948, where a levitation technique is applied and a model is seen suspended in the air. Horst's sketchbooks are also shown, with sketches of a face in the clouds, next to photos of Dali-inspired  "Dream of Venus" series.

Horst's most famous photograph, the Mainbocher Corset is here, along with the original sketch and the photograph 'in situ' in Vogue magazine. This photograph was the muse for Madonna's "Vogue" music-video where she recreated the exact pose. Horst says of this iconic photograph, "Lighting is more complex than one thinks. There appears to be only one source of light. But there were actually reflectors and other spotlights. I really don't know how I did it. I would not be able to repeat it".


"Stage and Screen" highlights portraits from Horst's book "Salute to the thirties" where he captured some of Hollywood's brightest stars. Included here are actress Ethel Waters as Hagar in "Mambas Daughters, Olivia de Havilland in "Call it a day", Joan Crawford, seated in an oversized chair, Bette Davis, Ginger Rogers, and Noel Coward & Gertrude Lawrence on-set of "Tonight at 8:30".
Other portraits include Vivien Leigh, where Horst uses a double file of steel buttons to suggest a waistcoat, and Jessica Tandy, who leans against a modernist block, suggestive of a 'Bauhaus' interior.
Horst enlisted into the American army in 1943, and his Army tags are shown here, along with a Rolleiflex camera and photos of Horst in Army uniform meeting President Truman.

In 1949 Horst travelled to the Middle East, Beirut to Persepolis and photographs from that trip are on display, notably the "Persepolis Bull", Horsts’ compelling image of a vast sculpture head amidst the ruins of a once magnificent palace.

"Patterns from Nature", also the title of Horst's book of 1946, shows close-up photographs of natural forms such as flowers, minerals, shells and butterfly wings. Horst arranged these photographs in a kaleidoscopic collage in a simple repeat, with the intention that these dynamic patterns could be used as designs for textiles, wallpaper, carpets, plastics and glass.

"The Studio" features Horst's work in the 1940's at Vogue and the Conde Nast studios. Displayed here are Horst's camera and camera-box with slides and equipment, photos of behind-the-scene shots, retouching notes and contact sheets. An accompanying film titled "Fashion means Business" shows Horst at work in the studios.
Horst was admired for his dramatic lighting and became one of the first photographers to perfect the new colour techniques of the 1930's. In "Fashion in Colour", there are portraits of Cecil Beaton,  Irving Penn and Lee Miller, and a glass installation housing a selection of the 94 Vogue magazine covers photographed by Horst.

In the early 1950's, Horst created a series of male nudes for an exhibition in Paris. The photographs use expressive light and shadow to create monumental and anonymous nudes. This emphasis on an idealised human body makes it resemble the classical sculptures that Horst so admired throughout his career. Included here are the seminal works "Male Nude 1" and "Triangle study of a Nude".
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Mehemed Agha, Art Director at American Vogue said, "Horst takes the inert clay of human flesh and moulds it into the decorative shapes of his own destiny. Every gesture of his models is planned, every line controlled and coordinated to the whole picture. Some gestures look natural and careless because carefully rehearsed; the others, like Voltaire's God, were invented by the artist because they did not exist"."

"Living in style" showcases Horst's photographic work for "House and Garden" and "Vogue" during the 1960's and 1970's. Horst bought a house in Long Island and there is footage of him 'in situ', along with footage of the Art Deco apartment of Karl Lagerfeld, and the houses of Yves Saint Laurent and Cy Twombly.
In the latter years of Horst's life, his early aesthetic experienced a renaissance. Horst produced new, lavish prints in platinum-palladium for museums and the collector's market, selecting emblematic works from every decade of his career. Featured are Dali's Ballet Costumes, Helen Bennett, a Houdon still-life and the Persepolis Bull. Horst defines his career as a photographer, stating, "I don't think photography has anything remotely to do with the brain. It has to do with eye appeal".
Further Information :
The V&A is open daily from 10.00 to 17.45 and until 22.00 on Fridays.
Tickets cost £8 (concessions available). Call 0207 420 9736. www.van.ac.uk

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