An Arbiter of Taste with an Instinctive Sense of Sophistication and an Elegant Aesthetic

Horst P. Horst was an arbiter of taste with an instinctive sense of sophistication and an elegant aesthetic. His great talent as an artist was his ability to capture the essence of his subject with a sophisticated sculptor’s sensitivity to form and light. Horst was born in Germany in 1906 and would prove himself to be a seminal figure in the history of 20th century photography during an astonishing career that spanned over half a century. Putting his innovative stamp on French Vogue magazine of the 1930s and 1940s, Horst became well known for his chic fashion images that appeared in France, Britain, and the United States. His images from the era are especially noted for uniquely and deftly capturing the time while also innovating the genre. Horst photographed many icons of the time such as Coco Chanel, Helen Bennett, Andy Warhol, Gertrude Stein, Iman, Marlene Dietrich, Yves Saint Laurent, and Nina de Voogh. Yves Saint Laurent believed,

“In an era when photographers all too often mistreat clothes, he was one of the few to respect them. I greatly admire his work.”

Horst P. Horst, Alix (Black Satin Dress), 1938, Printed Later, Platinum/Palladium Photograph

Alix (Black Satin) Dress

During the 1980s there was an increased interest in Horst’s earlier career and he often produced new prints in the costly and refined platinum-palladium process. This resulted in more nuanced tones, better surface quality, and more stable and permanent images. One such platinum-palladium print is “Alix (Black Satin) Dress” which shows how the platinum palladium process enhances Horst’s mastery of light, mood, and composition. The epitome of sophistication, the image encapsulates Horst’s idea that elegance is:

“a way of feeling naturally at ease with one’s shape and stance and clothes and surroundings. And I have tried to induce that mood, that feeling, in every model I have photographed.”

During the 1930s, the modeling profession was in its infancy and many of those who posed in magazines were fashionable friends of the staff. The woman relaxingly posed in the image is wearing a timeless dress made by the Paris couturiere, Alix, which seemingly flows from the peaceful woman who is in turn comfortably embraced by the contours of the chair lending an air of relaxation and refinement. Elegantly posed and brilliantly lit, Horst’s aptitude with composition and instilling a definitive sense of elegance and timeless glamour has situated him as one of the founders of modern fashion photography.

Horst: Photographer of Style

Running September 6th until January 4th is the definitive retrospective “Horst: Photographer of Style” on view at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Recognizing the pre-eminent fashion and portrait photographer’s remarkable talent, this comprehensive exhibition includes Horst’s renowned and timeless fashion photography as well as other genres in his extraordinary photographic oeuvre.


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