HELMUT NEWTON (1920-2004)
HELMUT NEWTON (1920-2004)
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HELMUT NEWTON (1920-2004)

"Big Nude III" (Variation), Paris

HELMUT NEWTON (1920-2004)
"Big Nude III" (Variation), Paris
signed, titled, dedicated ‘For Rudi!’ and numbered ‘e.a.I’ in ink on accompanying certificate of authenticity
gelatin silver print, flush-mounted on board
framed: 77 1⁄4 x 43 5⁄8 in. (196.2 x 110.8 cm.)
Photographed in 1980 and printed in the 1990s, this is the only hitherto recorded print of this image.
The artist
Rudolf Kicken, Berlin, 1990s, gift of the artist
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2003

Brought to you by

Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis Head of Department

Lot Essay

Helmut Newton – among the most singular, provocative, and influential photographers of his generation – initiated in 1980 a series of studies of individual standing nudes that he was to title his Big Nudes. These confrontational images – all taken in the same way, on a plain white studio background paper, lit diagonally from the front by a single light source, usually to the photographer’s right – have taken their place among the most commanding and widely published of Newton’s photographs.

The appearance at auction at Christie’s, New York, of the only known print – the artist’s proof, in dramatic life-size format, and with full provenance – of a close variation of the most celebrated of the series, "Big Nude III" (Variation), Paris, adds a major work to Newton’s documented corpus.

The first five Big Nudes were conceived in the context of a beauty feature “Constat de Beaute” for Vogue Paris (October 1980). Editor Francine Crescent had, for some years, allowed Newton the creative freedom to push the boundaries of fashion and related photography. He was energized by the challenge of working against the prescribed limitations of the genre and used every shoot as an opportunity to develop his own richly layered and willfully unsettling ideas. Newton was by instinct a location photographer, always interested in the atmospherics of the various settings he selected for his shoots. Though his pared-down Big Nudes, shot in a neutral studio space, may seem, untypically, to have no evident narrative, they in fact have a fascinating, and typically Newtonian, backstory.

As Newton explained in 1994 in the catalogue of an exhibition in Paris of his Big Nudes: “In 1980, I came across press images showing the offices of the specialist branch of the German police responsible for capturing the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group. There were life-size, full-length photographs of members of the group; a number were up on the walls, others could be seen on the police monitor screens.” Newton typically would cut out and keep to hand images that intrigued him, images that could sow the seed of a pictorial idea. Thus was born the concept of recreating the police set-up in a quite different context: “I had the idea of making a series of nudes of girls standing against a plain white background, wearing only high-heel shoes, with the lightest of make-up and their hair natural, without artifice: a series of anthropometric photographs, like police identity pictures.” Yet Newton brought more to the equation than the straightforward typology that his remarks might imply. He would take his inspiration from countless sources – from film, literature, painting, or as in this instance the press, and from his own sharp observation of social codes and behavior – and he would weave the strands of such sources into his carefully considered compositions.

Newton’s years as a fashion photographer had sharpened his eye to the language of pose and gesture. He would instruct his models precisely and deliberately to create the mood he had visualized, with the tension of a muscle, the tilt of a jaw, the lines of the figure coming together to project the metaphor of the Newton woman. His friend Karl Lagerfeld, in his introduction to 47 Nudes – the 1982 book that included the first Big Nudes series – observed: “It used to be said of certain painters that they were the painters of women. Helmut is certainly the photographer of women, but the pictures he takes of them are not necessarily what men expect.” Fashion historian Colin McDowell wrote in a Sunday Times tribute of 8 February 2004 following the photographer’s death: “Tearing away the veil of modesty to reveal the glamorous woman of sexual confidence, he always put her in top position. He posed his models in a way that brought out their masculinity within their femininity. His women were always powerfully beautiful … They attracted and alarmed in equal measure.”

Newton’s forceful Big Nudes, after their first appearance in print as elements within his complex multi-image and multi-screen construction for Vogue, very soon assumed new roles as independent images in print and as artworks on a gallery wall. Within weeks of the publication of the Vogue shoot, the suite of five was published as independent images, with an interview and text in Artistes, a journal devoted to contemporary art, with "Big Nude III" (Variation), Paris on the cover. Newton’s Big Nudes found their editorial counterpoint in the sculptures of Richard Long (issue 7, January-February 1981). One year on from the Vogue feature, in October 1981, the suite featured prominently in an exhibition Helmut Newton Photographies 1980-81 that marked a step-change in Newton’s engagement with the broader art community and in public perceptions of him within that sphere. Staged by the Galerie Daniel Templon in Paris, this exhibition presented his most recent work in dramatic large formats, led by the unprecedented scale of the Big Nudes and with "Big Nude III" (Variation), Paris as the poster image.

The model for "Big Nude III" (Variation), Paris was an American, Henriette Allais, of mixed Cherokee and French lineage. Born in 1954 in Jacksonville, Florida, she settled in Georgia, where she worked as an orthodontist’s assistant before taking up nude modelling. Cast by Newton for the Vogue shoot, she became the subject of two of the five images in the first, landmark suite of Big Nudes, featuring also as Big Nude V in a quite different pose, her legs overlapped and her arms above her head. The present "Big Nude III" (Variation), Paris – with the slight turn of the head already specifically defined by Newton in a surviving Polaroid from the shoot – boasts its own very specific and fully documented story, confirming that it was printed in the early 1990s and gifted, with its certificate signed by Newton and dedicated ‘For Rudi!’, to his then dealer Rudi Kicken as a thank-you for his commitment to his artist.

Of all the models who feature in the Big Nudes series – resumed and extended by Newton a decade later and ended in 1993 – Henriette Allais stands out as the emblematic subject, the only one to be featured in three variations. She has become known across the globe as the cover subject of the monumental anthology of Newton’s work, Sumo, published in 1999. So effectively did she embody and perform the very essence of Newton’s vision of the self-assured woman, she was enlisted by the photographer for a number of further shoots through the year following her first casting with him. These included notably Newton’s Tied torso and his Nude in seaweed, Saint-Tropez; and of course we recognize her again in his Naked and Dressed series for Vogue Paris that includes the celebrated Sie Kommen diptych (November 1981).

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