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Horst: Photographer of Style

By Carolyn Enting

Horst: Photographer of Style
Horst P. Horst ranks alongside Irving Penn and Richard Avedon as one of the pre-eminent fashion and portrait photographers of the 20th century. An exhibition dedicated to his work is now on show at the V&A, London.

When German-born photographer Horst P. Horst joined Vogue in 1931, Paris was the undisputed centre of high fashion. Photography had begun to eclipse graphic illustration in fashion magazines and publisher Conde Montrose Nast devoted large sums of money to improving the quality of image reproduction.

Horst’s career straddled the opulence of pre-war Parisian haute couture and the rise of the ready-to-wear in post-war New York and his style developed from lavish studio set-ups to a more austere approach in the latter half of the 20th century.

Examples of these can be viewed in an exhibition of his work, Horst: Photographer of Style, now showing at the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum, London.

Horst (1906-1999) was a master of light, composition and atmospheric illusion, who conjured a world of sensual sophistication, says exhibition curator Susanna Brown, curator of photographs at the V&A.

During his illustrious 60-year career Horst worked predominantly in Paris and New York with leading couturiers including Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli, star Marlene Dietrich and artist Salvador Dali.

Highlights of the exhibition include photographs recently donated to the V&A by Gert Elfering, art collector and owner of the Horst Estate, previously unpublished vintage prints.

Horst was admired for his dramatic lighting and became one of the first photographers to perfect the new colour techniques of the 1930s. He went on to create more than 90 Vogue covers and countless pages of vivid colour.

Dinner suit and headdress by Schiaparelli, 1947. (c) Conde Nast/Horst Estate
Dinner suit and headdress by Schiaparelli, 1947. (c) Conde Nast/Horst Estate.
Summer Fashions, American Vogue cover, 15 May 1941. (c) Conde Nast/Horst Estate
Summer Fashions, American Vogue cover, 15 May 1941. (c) Conde Nast/Horst Estate.
Salvador Dali's costumes for Leonid Massine's ballet Bacchanale, 1939. (c) Conde Nast/Horst Estate.
Salvador Dali’s costumes for Leonid Massine’s ballet Bacchanale, 1939. (c) Conde Nast/Horst Estate.
Muriel Maxwell, American Vogue cover, 1 July 1939. (c) Conde Nast/Horst Estate.
Muriel Maxwell, American Vogue cover, 1 July 1939. (c) Conde Nast/Horst Estate.
Dress by Hattie Carnegie, 1939. (c) Conde Nast/Horst Estate.
Dress by Hattie Carnegie, 1939. (c) Conde Nast/Horst Estate.

Photo credit for lead image: Horst directing fashion shoot with Lisa Fonssagrives, 1949. Photo by Roy Stevens/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images.

Horst: Photographer of Style is showing at the V&A until January 4, 2015.

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