Friday, September 26, 2014

Snowdon and the world of arts

Snowdon - a life in view opened today at the National Portrait Gallery.  It continues until 15th June 2015 and admission is free. I anticipate it will be very popular.

Lord Snowdon has always been so much more than the man who married the Queen's sister - and a very unroyal royal at that.

To my mind there is absolutely no question that what he will be ultimately be remembered for in the decades to come is his work. His photography and his design work (eg the Aviary at London Zoo and the Investiture of Prince Charles) set very high standards.

He also recorded the people of his - and our - lifetimes - from high society and those who moved in influential circles to people who were more disadvantaged and had fewer opportunities in life.

I find his photography work to be very impressive in terms of:
  • The photographic portraits he creates - many of which are iconic. Those who create portraits have a lot to learn from him
  • The topics and subject matter he covers - in this exhibition it's mostly people in the arts and artists of various kinds
  • His collaboration around specific projects for publications such as the Sunday Times e.g. the plight of older people and mobility issues for disabled people.
He has also been a significant contributor of photos of notable people to the National Portrait Gallery for some time.
Frances von Hofmannstal and Helen Trompeteler
at this morning's preview
This new exhibition is intended to celebrate that gift. It has been curated by Helen Trompeteler, the NPG's Assistant Curator of Photographs in close consultation with Snowdon's daughter, Lady Frances von Hofmannstal (Note to the Daily Mail - NOT Lady Sarah Chatto!). 

In recent years Frances assisted with the selection of the photographs which formed the recent donation to the NPG and has been responsible for the creation of the Snowdon Archive called Snowdon Review (a website well worth reviewing in depth - it includes some stunning photographs of well known artists). This has been an initiative to organise and record his work online while he is still alive, based on the meticulous records and the masses of photographs kept at his home in Launceston Place.  She has also been influential in the compilation of the book which has been published today in association with the exhibition (although this is not a catalogue).

The exhibition

The exhibition includes:
Private View examined just why London had become, along with Paris and New York, one of the three art capitals of the world. Looking at both the senior British artists as well as the new generation of Op, Pop and Abstract artists, the book - with its combination of Lord Snowdon's photographs and Germano Facetti's typography - established a bold, new visual language.
Unsurprisingly, the photos donated to the NPG are of "names" i.e. being 'notable is the basic qualification for being a sitter who is included in the National Portrait Gallery collection.

The exhibition starts with a very small section of photos which provide some context for his royal connection - in marrying the Queen's sister. 

Antony Armstrong Jones, 1st Earl Snowdon
by Cecil Beaton
This includes a photo of Antony Armstrong Jones by Cecil Beaton (see above), the first photo Snowdon ever took of Prince Charles for his 8th birthday and his first commission to photograph the Queen (1957).

We are then treated to a cavalcade of photographs of luminaries from the past 50+years. I found the placement of two great eccentrics of the English speaking world next to one another to be inspired. Below you can see Vita Sackville West and Peter Cook.

The Writing Corner
Vita Sackville West (1892-1962), author, poet, gardener and gardening correspondent 
and Peter Cook (1937-1995) actor, satirist, writer and comedian
Then we have an unpublished photograph which records the fabulous fashion designers from the 60s with a notation next to it of who's who.

The fashion designers of the 1960s
One long wall is devoted to his exhibition related to his Private View project in the 1960s which sought to record the people working in the arts in London - with a view to trying to explain why it was the visual arts in London were so good.

The wall of photographs from 'Private View'
There are also photos of leading edge art colleges (Ealing) and galleries (Whitechapel) and galleries (Helen Lessore).

Anthony Blunt (1907-1983)
There's an absolutely amazing photo of Antony Blunt which might be said to be prescient in its design and content. Blunt, for the uninitiated, is the art historian who also became the Keeper of the Queen's Pictures while at the same time being a Soviet Spy. At the same time, he leaked British secrets to the Russian NKVD who he joined in 1937 two years prior to joining MI5!

There is also an album on display which records the making of the exhibition and includes photos of snowdon at work on his photographs in his studio at Kensington Palace.

Snowdon's youngest daughter, Frances von Hofmannstal, explains the album relating to Private View
There's a collection of four photos of notable male sculptors (see top right) with Barbara Hepworth pictured alongside Kenneth Clarke (of 'Civilisation').

In the inner room the are a number of photos of ballet dancers, artists and authors including a stunning one of David Bowie and another of Terence Stamp.

(clockwise from left) Terence Stamp, David Bowie, Julie Christie, John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling

Overall I can highly recommend the exhibition to all those who enjoy portrait photography and those who lived through the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

A new book 

Today also saw the launch and publication of a superb new monograph about him and his photographs.

I also recommend you look at the book published in association with the exhibition. It's not cheap costing £50, however it includes some amazing photos of the art world in the second half of the 20th century. Plus it has some very interesting and different perspectives on Snowdon the photographer provided by various people from different times in his life.

I've bought a copy simply because it's a book about the people I have followed during my lifetime and includes many photographs of artists and sculptors, musicians and actors, writers and editors.

SNOWDON By Antony Armstrong Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon.
Foreword by Graydon Carter Introduction by Patrick Kinmonth Preface by Frances von Hofmannsthal Contributions by Grace Coddington, Tom Ford, Philippe Garner, Suzy Menkes, A.A. Gill, Alexandra Shulman, Nicolas Ghesquière, André Leon Talley and more. Hardcover / 10” x 13” / 368 pages / 175 colour and B&W photos. Price: £50.00 Rizzoli New York / ISBN: 978-0-847-84328-2


  1. For those who'd like an insight into how Snowdon is today, can I recommend you read this article Tony Snowdon is the lord of the lens in The Australian
  2. Exhibitions of the work of Lord Snowdon at the National Portrait Gallery

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