Lot Content

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IRVING PENN (b. 1917)
PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE NEW YORK COLLECTOR
IRVING PENN (b. 1917)

Optician's Shop Window, New York (Version A), c. 1939

Details
IRVING PENN (b. 1917)
Optician's Shop Window, New York (Version A), c. 1939
gelatin silver print
signed, initialed, titled, dated, inscribed 'Print made at time of photograph', edition annotation in ink, 'Penn/Condé Nast' copyright credit reproduction limitation and edition stamps (on the reverse of the mount)
9 3/8 x 7in. (23.7 x 17.7cm.)
Literature
Szarkowski, Irving Penn, The Museum of Modern Art, 1984, pl. 1, variant cropping; Penn, Passage: A Work Record, Alfred A. Knopf Callaway, 1991, p. 13; Irving Penn: una collezione privata, Galleria Gottardo, 1993, p. 18, pl. 4, Version B; Irving Penn: Collection privée, Musée d'art et d'histoire, Fribourg Editions Benteli, 1994, p. 20, pl. 3, Version B; Westerbeck, Irving Penn: A Career in Photography, Art Institute of Chicago, 1997, p. 175, cat. no. 4; Penn, Still Life, Little, Brown and Co., 2001, n.p.

Lot Essay

Made at the very beginning of Penn's career, this photograph is emblematic of his life's work. At once a still-life and a portrait, even a kind of self-portrait, this modest bit of vernacular advertising is portrayed by Penn simultaneously as a document of folk art and a work of surrealism--then at its apogee. At that time, Penn had studied with, and worked as an assistant to, the legendary art director Alexey Brodovitch. He knew the work of Atget, had seen Walker Evans's photographs at MoMA and had absorbed the lessons of Surrealism. He photographed mostly in the streets at this time while working as a designer, painter and draftsman. He only began photographing in earnest in the studio a few years later for Vogue where his photographs continue to appear to the present day.

There are five vintage prints from this negative. Only the present lot and one other print are known to exist outside of Penn's studio. There are two variant croppings from this negative. The one known as 'Version B' includes more in the frame to the right of the window and 'Version C' includes more on all sides. By its concentration on the central object, the present lot, 'Version A' is the most compelling. Penn again photographed the same eyes in the optician's window in 1942. In only three years, they appear to have suffered decades of neglect.

During the second half of the twentieth century (and in fact beginning a few years earlier) Irving Penn has been one of photography's conspicuous innovators and distinguished performers in at least two of the medium's oldest and most successful genres: still life and portraiture. - John Szarkowski

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