The National Portrait Gallery present a major exhibition celebrating the remarkable range of photography that has been commissioned by British Vogue since it was founded in 1916. The exhibition features over 280 prints from the Condé Nast archive and international collections being brought together for the first time to tell the story of one of the most influential fashion magazines in the world.
Exploring the exhibition, decade by decade allows the visitor to understand the photographs in their historical and cultural context. The early decades featured many ‘society’ women like Lady Diana Cooper who tended to populate the magazines and provide a particular upper class view of British glamour, even if there were occasional photographs of the more ‘exotic’ like the portrait of Josephine Baker.
By the 1930s and 1940s, films stars became the new ‘beauty elite’ with the rising photography star of British Vogue, Cecil Beaton taking photographs of Marlene Dietrich and Vivien Leigh which are featured in the exhibition. It was at this time that Beaton also began to photograph royalty with his portrait of Queen Elizabeth in 1939.
The Second World War often saw fashion photographers being used to take pictures of the war effort, Beaton produced a number of these , however his Fashion is Indestructible which features a well dressed model in front of some bombed out ruins seems bizarre and out of touch with the thousands dying in the blitz, perhaps more in touch with the period are the remarkable pictures by Lee Miller.
In the 1950s, British Vogue seemed to try to recapture the glamour of the 1930s and 40s, but the world was changing and by the 1960s , Beaton and his contemporaries were looking distinctly old-fashioned and were being overtaken by the more modern photographers like David Bailey who documented the ‘swinging sixties’.
The fashions of the 60s, 70s and to some extent the 1980s tended to dictate the photography which was more naturalistic and informal.
Remarkably, the late 90s and the 21st century saw the fashion compass move back to glamour but with a modern twist. The exhibition includes the entire set of prints from Corinne Day’s controversial Kate Moss underwear shoot, taken in 1993.
Fashion designers like Dior, Saint Laurent and McQueen began to define the looks of the later decades and more bizarre fashion shoots were used to get noticed in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
Vogue 100: A Century of Style includes work by many of the leading twentieth-century photographers, including Cecil Beaton, Lee Miller, Irving Penn, Lord Snowdon, David Bailey, Patrick Demarchelier, Nick Knight, Herb Ritts and Mario Testino. It also includes many of the famous faces of the twentieth century, from Henri Matisse, Charlie Chaplin, Francis Bacon, Marlene Dietrich, Lady Diana Spencer and David Beckham.
This is an intriguing and entertaining exhibition that explores many of the social and cultural aspects of the last 100 years. Whilst no one would suggest the exhibition is a true reflection of British society, Vogue 100: A Century of Style illustrates the various periods of style, taste and the arts in British society with many iconic photographs of celebrities and famous people. It is an exhibition that will appeal to a wide range of people not just those interested in fashion and photography. Theatre and opera set designer Patrick Kinmonth has designed the exhibition with a great deal of imagination to present a visually stunning display of remarkable photographs and other visual information.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
If you would like more information or book tickets, visit the National Portrait Gallery website here
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