IRVING PENN (1917-2009)
Rose: Blue Moon, London, 1970
dye transfer print, printed 1989
signed, titled, dated [with print date] and numbered of '17' and '15577' in pencil, stamped photographer's copyright credit and Condé Nast Publications reproduction limitation in ink (verso)
image: 21 7/8 x 17 5/8 in. (55.5 x 44.7 cm.)
sheet: 23 x 19 1/2 in. (58.4 x 49.5 cm.)
This work is from an edition of seventeen.
Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York;
to Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles;
acquired from the above by the present owner.
Irving Penn, Flowers, Harmony Books, New York, 1980, p. 51.
Exhibition catalogue, Irving Penn, New York, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1987, n.p.
Irving Penn, Passage: A Work Record, Jonathan Cape, London, 1991, p. 186.
John Szarkowski, Still life by Irving Penn, Little Brown and Co., Boston, 2001, n.p.
David Campany, Irving Penn Flowers, Hamiltons Gallery, London, 2015, pl. IX, p. 29.
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Lot Essay

In Irving Penn’s Rose, Blue Moon, London, 1970, a single pink rose is photographed from behind, its head slightly bowed, defiant, as its pink petals begin to curl backwards and its fragile edges harden with the passing of time. Concentrated colors of deep oranges and yellows slowly appear, complimenting the pink hue of impermanence. Frozen in time, Penn captures this flower’s vibrancy and resilience amidst its natural decline.

Throughout a remarkable career that spanned nearly eighty years, Penn secured himself as one of the leading photographers of the 20th Century, consistently reflecting his mastery of multiple genres, from fashion to still-life and, as seen in these lots, flowers. The flowers series began while on assignment for Vogue, when, over seven consecutive December issues, Penn devoted each one to a particular flower. In keeping with his trademark minimalist aesthetic, Penn stripped the flower of its traditional context and associations, namely, a romantic bouquet or a traditional centerpiece. Instead, each was presented in a fresh, modern way, encouraging viewers to focus on the petals’ undulating edges, the glimmer of the water droplets, the wide range of sumptuous colors, and the velvety texture of each flower. This was Penn’s consistent methodology, which lent itself naturally to presenting something as ordinary and familiar as a flower as an extraordinary, sculptural objet d’art.

'I claim no special knowledge of horticulture that the reader might believe he has a right to expect of someone making a book of flowers. I even confess to enjoying that ignorance since it has left me free to reach with simple pleasure just to form and color, without being diverted by consideration of rarity or tied to the convention that a flower might be photographed at its moment of unblemished, nubile perfection.' -- Irving Penn

Penn, admittedly ignorant of horticulture and unable to appreciate the rarity of his impressive bounty, was pleased to be able to 'react with simple pleasure just to form and color, without being diverted by considerations of rarity or tied to the convention that a flower must be photographed at its moment of unblemished, nubile perfection,' as he later confessed. This impulse to capture blemishes within the aging flowers underscores Penn’s lifelong devotion to exploring beauty within imperfections. To connect intimately with an object, each portion of the whole—and inevitably, each imperfection—was to be explored and honored equally. This guiding principle is evident throughout Penn’s oeuvre, which began over two decades before the flowers series was commissioned.

While a student at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art, where he pursued his passion for painting, Penn was acquainted with the man who would become his first mentor, Alexey Brodovitch. Recognizing Penn’s astute eye and undeniable talent, Brodovitch, an editor at Harper’s Bazaar at the time, took Penn under his wing, and soon thereafter, to the magazine’s offices. Penn would later consider Brodovitch his ‘spiritual, aesthetic father’ for having encouraged Penn to ‘give up the preciousness’ in his work and learn to appreciate beauty within the details of form, texture, materiality, color, and seemingly mundane details (Exhibition catalogue, Irving Penn Centennial, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2017, p. 11). This concept guided Penn’s approach to his subjects and became the hallmark of his work, one that he continued to employ during the next stage of his professional career, at Vogue.

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