City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Vanity Fair Portraits Review


By Vivien Devlin - Posted on 12 June 2008

5
Vanity Fair Portraits - Liza Minelli
Show Details

This utterly fabulous and glamorous collection of 150 photographic
portraits, features the most significant iconic faces from the world
of American and European arts and culture of the past century from 1913
to the present day. Vanity Fair Portraits goes far
beyond simply a selection of images of famous media stars - from Greta
Garbo to Keira Knightley, from Noel Coward to Robert de Niro - but
highlights the extraordinary international wealth of distinguished 20th
century photographers - Cecil Beaton, Man Ray, Annie Leibovitz, Mario
Testino - who are as celebrated as artists as their sitters.

The history of Vanity Fair magazine reveals a fascinating
colourful story about publishing and social change. The title takes
its name from the popular comic play by William Thackeray, who wrote
"The World is a looking glass and gives back to every man the
reflection of his own face".

In 1913 the creative American publisher Conde Nast, who had recently purchased Vogue, bought the rights to two small magazines, Dress and Vanity Fair,
(theatre & gossip), to combine them into a new ambitious joint
publication, covering "fashions, the stage, society, sports, the fine
arts." By January 1914 the renamed Vanity Fair was launched
as an avant garde cosmopolitan, cultural journal for the discerning,
intellectual reader. It coincided with the birth of modernism, the
decadent jazz age, an era of literary and artistic experiment.

The
magazine commissioned portrait photographs, stories and articles from
both established and aspiring writers and artists of the day. Regular
contributors during the 1920s included T S Eliot, Aldoux Huxley,
Gertrude Stein, Thomas Wolfe and PG Wodehouse with theatre reviews by
Dorothy Parker and photographs by Edward Steichen and Man Ray. The
success of this highly influential magazine continued until 1936 when
the decline of advertising through the Depression forced its closure.
In 1983, Conde Nast publications decided to relaunch Vanity Fair as an
upmarket contemporary avant garde lifestyle magazine, continuing its
important role in commissioning world class photographers and writers.

With such a rich archive of celebrity photographs, Grayden Carter,
editor since 1992, decided to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the
modern day Vanity Fair with a retrospective exhibition
covering the history of the magazine as well as the development of
portrait photography. It's a Who's Who of 20th century arts, fashion,
stage, screen, politics and sport. Begin around 1915 with a delicate
image of Anna Pavlova, moving on to sombre grey portraits of H G Wells,
Thomas Hardy and D H Lawrence - each rather uncertain of the camera
lens.

The work by Baron de Meyer illustrates his trademark composed,
back-lit sitter such as Charlie Chaplin. A beautiful, elegant portrait
of Douglas Fairbanks Jn and Joan Crawford, sunbathing on Santa Monica
beach was taken on their honeymoon - a tasteful precursor to the
celebrity shots in Hello and Heat magazine today!. Everyone is here
who should be here: Stravinsky, Picasso (a serious profile by Man Ray),
Noel Coward, Louis Armstrong as we move into the 1930s and a touch of
colour is introduced.

The modern era of Vanity Fair moved quickly with the times,
reinventing itself as both glossy and gritty, balancing groundbreaking,
outspoken articles on world affairs with controversial glamour shots
from Hollywood. Remember the scandal of the very pregnant, nude Demi
Moore front cover by Liebovitz (1991), and here's a portrait of
Jennifer Anniston by Testino in undressed mode you would not have seen
in Friends. It was Mario Testino who captured the Princess of
Wales in a series of stunning portraits taken in July 1997, just twelve
weeks before she died, seen here in this exhibition as a perfect
testimony to her charm and model beauty. And observe famous faces of
the 21st century - a bold, brash image of Liza Minnelli
today, cigarette in her mouth, and still those Cabaret eyes of Sally
Bowles stare out at us. In contrast, view President Bush with his war
council 2001 and the 9/11 Firefighters, New York.

Vanity Fair Portraits is an eminently pertinent
exhibition for Edinburgh. It encapsulates all the Edinburgh Festivals -
film, jazz, books, theatre, music and visual arts - perfect for our
international visitors to the city throughout the summer 2008.
Renowned as being iconic, inspirational and influential, Vanity Fair has been said to "ignite a dinner party at 50 yards" - this sparkling gem of an exhibition will surely do the same.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 14 June to 21 September, 2008. Thereafter through 2008 and 2009, on tour to Los Angeles and Canberra.

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