The auction’s title, Icons of Glamour & Style, describes the direction followed by collector Leon Constantiner. As a student, he had specialised in communications, photography and television, while following in a family tradition of regular viewing of pre-auction exhibitions across many artistic fields. His epiphany was provoked by a Helmut Newton work he chanced upon in one such preview nearly three decades ago.
One purchase led to others — many others — as he discovered and explored the work of the great fashion and style photographers of the post-war decades, a golden age defined by such luminaries as Newton, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, Norman Parkinson and William Klein; and their successors, who include Chris von Wangenheim, Hans Feurer, Peter Lindbergh and Herb Ritts. All these and more feature in the auction.
The collection tells several stories, referencing great icons of the screen, notably Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, embracing images by Andy Warhol and Hiroshi Sugimoto of New York, Constantiner’s home city of the past 30 years, and reflecting his support of young contemporary Israeli photographers. But the dominant theme is the evolving face of fashion and styled beauty.
Constantiner recognised that fine prints by the masters of the genre deserved a significant place in the history of photography. His view has been validated in the exhibition and collecting programmes of major international museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and most recently the Getty Museum of Art in Los Angeles, with its exhibition Icons of Style.
The Constantiner collection reveals that these leading editorial photographers are true artists with strong individual perspectives. While fulfilling time-specific commissions, they created images that transcend their era. Their pictures document the vision of brilliant designers such as Cristóbal Balenciaga, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, and Yves Saint Laurent, through the grace of the great models — from the haughty beauties of the 1950s to the supermodels of the 1980s.
Among the many delights within the collection is a large-format print of Richard Avedon’s celebrated Dovima with Elephants from 1955 when the photographer was at the peak of his creativity. He had been covering the Paris collections for Harper’s Bazaar since 1947, the year of Dior’s ‘New Look’, a key moment in the post-war renaissance of Paris haute couture. In this iconic photograph — which exudes such energy, elegance and glamour — American model Dovima poses extravagantly in a Paris circus in a gorgeous evening dress from the house of Dior, which was designed by Dior’s brilliant young apprentice, Yves Saint Laurent.
Yves Saint Laurent reappears in an equally iconic image by Helmut Newton made 20 years later, by which time the couturier was well established with his own couture house. Newton, a Berliner who had made Paris his home, viewed the city, like Avedon, with the intense curiosity of the outsider. He favoured authentic locations over the studio and loved the atmosphere of the city at night.
The collection contains a fine print of surely his most famous — and characteristically subversive — nocturnal picture. Shot on the rue Aubriot where Newton lived, it depicts two models: one, stylishly androgynous with slicked down hair, wears a sharply tailored trouser suit by Yves Saint Laurent; the other is naked but for high heels and a hat by Paulette.
This remarkable collection boasts an exceptional selection of prints by Irving Penn, led by his dramatic Harlequin Dress and Woman in Moroccan Palace, and including masterful studies of Paris couture, from 1950 designs by Balenciaga to a 1994 feather mask by Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel.
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Through these and a wealth of other images, we are invited to appreciate the delicious artifice of fashion and glamour, as presented by successive generations of epoch-defining beauties in the frozen moments captured forever — and so seductively — by the great photographic masters.