As a young man, Horst P. Horst moved from his small town in Germany to Paris to apprentice for modernist architect Le Corbusier. Following this short-lived interest in architecture, he would meet fellow photographer and friend George Hoyningen-Huene who introduced and mentored Horst in the art of photography. Horst would become a legend in the history of fine art photography. Rising through prominence with his photographs during the interwar years, Horst would begin a lifetime association with Vogue magazine in 1931, creating a decisive, idealized, and classical vision of beauty and refined aesthetic that catapulted him as one of the most influential arbiters of style of the 20th century.
“Horst really was the 20th century.” – Eric Borman, 1999.
Horst’s insight into the illusory power of the image allowed him to create compositions that could transcend and transform its subjects, in many ways perfecting fashion and portrait photography. Having studied classical sculpture and painting, Horst promoted a conception of beauty that mirrored the idealized, utopian concerns ranging from antiquity to the modern. Horst P. Horst is best remembered as one of the greatest exponents of elegance and style presented through classical themes in photography, as well as one of the most skillful and gifted photographers who came to epitomize refinement and sophistication through a near-perfect sense of composition. Shades of Horst P. Horst were to be found in the work of so many great photographers who followed after and were inspired by him.
As the creative director of photography for Vogue, Horst’s portraits were in demand. He took on assignments of photographing noteworthy and prominent individuals. Among these photographs is that of Yves Saint Laurent, taken in the country home of him and his partner, Pierre Bergé, “Château Gabriel” in the northwest of France. As one of the most influential designers of the time, Yves Saint Laurent was photographed by Horst from the 1950s to the 1980s. In this image “Château Gabriel” Yves Saint Laurent”, commissioned by French Vogue in December of 1983, Horst captures a relaxed Saint Laurent perched on his couch within the interior of his home, in suit and tie, smiling towards the camera and exuding a cosmopolitan radiance. Châtaeu Gabriel was designed to reflect the aristocratic French world of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time; Saint Laurent was Swann and Bergé the Baron de Charlus. Artist Paul Meriguet painted the water lily mural while a friend, Jacques Grange, decorated the interior. The château and its rooms, named after characters in Proust’s novel, ultimately served as a refuge from the heat they experienced in their summer home in Marrakech. This rare, lifetime signed photograph is an example of how the refinement of Horst helped define and heighten the elegance and almost magical world of Yves Saint Laurent.
Horst P. Horts’s work exudes timeless beauty and elegance often emulated by photographers who came after and were influenced by him like Eric Borman, Bruce Weber, Richard Avedon, and Robert Mapplethorpe among others. With one of the longest spanning careers in photography that lasted sixty years from 1931 to 1991, Horst left legacies both as a fashion and as a portrait photographer. Horst’s legendary portraits are an invaluable archive of the salient and most talented individuals of the 20th century.
“Fashion is an expression of the times. Elegance is something else again.” – Horst, 1984