Penn on Paper: Acquiring 100 Masterworks by Irving Penn

August 9, 2013
A woman standing in a black suit with a black hat.

Irving Penn, Dior Black Suit (Tania), Paris, 1950, gelatin silver print Copyright © by The Irving Penn Foundation

Mud-Glove is one of the images currently on view in A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Taken by Irving Penn in 1975 and printed the following year, it is a found object--discarded, frayed, desiccated. Yet, in Penn's hands (or maybe it's his eye) and the luxe platinum palladium printing, it is a thing of beauty.

Visual storyteller and insider into the worlds of high art and everyday objects, stage and street, Irving Penn is one of the most renowned photographers of the last century. He is perhaps best recognized for his fashion work for Harper's Bazaar and Vogue that helped to transform the images from magazine portraits into fine art. Models in long gloves that reach above the elbows are iconic Penn, as is the Mud-Glove that was found in the gutter, not on a runway.

One hundred of Irving Penn's photographs have just been acquired by the museum from The Irving Penn Foundation, some familiar, and some—like his series from a road trip through the American South in the early 1940s—not well-known. You can view a slideshow of selected works from this acquisition on our website. In 1988, American Art received a gift of 60 photographs from Mr. Penn that spanned his career from 1944 to 1986. Together with this recent gift, these 160 images will form the basis of an exhibition of Penn's photographs in 2015.

The exhibition will be curated by Merry Foresta, who will also contribute to the catalogue. Foresta, an independent consultant for the arts who was the museum's curator of photography from 1983 to 1999, and the curator for A Democracy of Images, says “This gift to the museum of rarely exhibited works by Irving Penn creates an opportunity to present a revealing retrospective and a look at the influential legacy of this important American photographer."


Recent Posts

View of SAAM gallery.
Your favorite pieces from SAAM’s collection are now on display alongside new works in the redesigned modern and contemporary galleries
A photograph of a woman in front of artwork
SAAM's renovated and reimagined modern and contemporary galleries transform the museum’s third floor into spaces for wonder and reflection
A photograph of a person standing in front of an artwork. She is wearing earbuds and holding her phone up to the work.
SAAM teamed up with the digital firm Smartify to create a series of audio tours that deepen the visitor experience, both in our galleries and online.