IRVING PENN (1917-2009)
IRVING PENN (1917-2009)

Three Poppies, Arab Chief, New York, 1969

IRVING PENN (1917-2009)
Three Poppies, Arab Chief, New York, 1969
signed, titled, date of image and of print in pencil with copyright reproduction, edition and print information stamps '3 POPPIES, ARAB CHIEF (NEW YORK, 1969) Irving Penn' (on the reverse)
dye transfer print
image: 21 7⁄8 x 18 1⁄8in. (55 x 46cm.)
sheet: 22 7⁄8 x 19 ½in. (58 x 49.5cm.)
Photographed in 1969 and printed in 1992, this work is from an edition of twenty-seven
Hamiltons Gallery, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1992.
“A Trance of Poppies”, American Vogue, December 1969 (illustrated p. 207).
Irving Penn, Irving Penn : Flowers, Harmony Books, New York 1980 (illustrated p. 4).
Michael S. Smith, Houses, New York, 2008 (illustrated pp. 149-150 and 152.)
Irving Penn: Centennial, New Haven and London, 2017, (illustrated pl. 206, p. 307).
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Irving Penn, 1975 (another from the edition illustrated).
Genava, Musee d'art et d'histoire Irving Penn, Irving Penn,1994, p. 73. (another from the edition illustrated).
New York, Pace/MacGill Gallery, Irving Penn: In Flower, 2007.
London, Hamiltons Gallery, Irving Penn: Flower Power, 2007-2008.
London, Hamiltons Gallery, Irving Pen: Flowers, 2015-2016 (another from the edition exhibited).
London, Hamiltons Gallery, Richard Learoyd & Irving Penn: Flowers, 2022 (another from the edition exhibited).
Further Details
Another example from the edition ins in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Lot Essay

In the late 1960s, American Vogue commissioned Irving Penn to make an annual portfolio devoted to a specific flower. The inaugural series, ‘Lust for Tulips’, was published to much fanfare in 1967. Penn went on to photograph a different blossom each year in his Fifth Avenue studio, releasing, at Christmastime, a new, stunning collection featuring, among others, peonies, roses, lilies, and the trio of deep crimson poppies shown in the present work. Three Poppies, Arab Chief, New York, 1969 (1969) is an arresting depiction of floral life. Isolated in characteristic fashion against a white ground, the flowers are extraordinary, each velvety petal a study in texture, opulence, and personality. Far from a picture of botanical taxonomy, the three poppies are wholly individual.

To emphasise the saturated colours in the present work, Penn elected to print it—as with the rest of the ‘Flowers’ photographs—using the dye-transfer process: this is the preferred photographic technique for highlighting chromatic potency. Dye-transfer printing is a time-consuming and intense operation that Penn reserved for specific photographs. Many of these, including Three Poppies, Arab Chief, New York, 1969, rank among his most striking and collectable. An edition of the present work is a promised gift to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. It is significant that, in addition to the rich, brilliant colours that a dye-transfer print possesses, the method is also extremely stable, ensuring that the photograph will retain its vibrancy and tactility for years to come.

By the time ‘A Trance of Poppies’ was published in 1969, Penn had worked at Vogue for more than two decades, having been hired by Alexander Liberman, then the new art director, in 1943. Under Liberman, Penn quickly became known for his clever layouts, graphic clarity and eye-catching covers. Over the years he cemented his reputation for crisp, beautiful images that, no matter how many years had passed, always seemed strikingly of the moment. While the camera’s presence necessarily introduces an aura of detachment to an image, Penn became the photographer par excellence of this aesthetic, constructing his frames rigorously and economically. Writing about the resulting images, Liberman noted that ‘a Penn photograph has an immediacy, an impact, and communicates a clear signal of what it is about’ (A. Liberman, ‘An American Modern’, in Passage: A Work Record, London 1991, p. 8).

Born in 1917 to immigrant parents, Penn—dreaming of becoming a painter—attended the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Arts before studying under Alexey Brodovitch at his Design Laboratory. Brodovitch encouraged the young Penn to abandon the ‘preciousness’ that had thus far characterised his canvases, teaching him to apply principles of modern art and design and to closely observe popular culture (M. Hambourg, ‘The Heart of the Matter’, in Irving Penn: Centennial, exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2017, p. 14). By 1938, Penn had landed in New York, where he worked for magazines including Harper’s Bazaar while saving up to buy his first camera. Five years later he was employed at Vogue, designing covers and revolutionising fashion photography. In addition to his witty images of models and celebrities, Penn photographed, among others, tradesmen, indigenous Peruvians, and still lifes that ranged from surreal to the sublime—forever finding beauty in all that he saw. Penn was a true ‘master of tone’, whose photographs, writes Roberta Smith, were ‘casual yet exquisite in every way’ (R. Smith, ‘The Met Celebrates Irving Penn, Revolutionary Photographer’, New York Times, 20 April 2017). That mastery is exemplified in the rich splendour of the present work.

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