Ida Kar: Bohemian Photographer, 1908-74 highlights the crucial role played by this key woman photographer at the heart of the creative avant-garde. With striking portraits of artists such as Henry Moore, Georges Braque, Gino Severini and Bridget Riley, and writers such as Iris Murdoch and Jean-Paul Sartre, this exhibition offers a fascinating insight into the cultural life of post-war Britain and an opportunity to see iconic works, and others not previously exhibited.
On display for the first time is a portrait of artist Yves Klein, shown at his first and highly controversial London exhibition in 1957 in front of one of his famous monochrome works, in the distinctive blue-colour he was later to patent as his own. (‘The artist who paints nothing’ was one newspaper headline at the time.)
A portrait of the ‘art strike’ artist and political activist Gustav Metzger – taken at an exhibition entitled Festival of Misfits – is another discovery in an exhibition which partly chronicles 1950s and 1960s Bohemian London society. A photograph of Royston Ellis, a poet and friend of John Lennon who inspired the song ‘Paperback Writer’ and introduced Lennon to ‘Polythene Pam,’ the subject of the Beatles song, is also on display for the first time. As is one of Kar’s earliest works, a beautiful portrait of the actress and director Sylvia Syms from the beginning of her career in 1953.
Russian-born, of Armenian heritage, Ida Kar (1908–74) was instrumental in encouraging the acceptance of photography as a fine art when, in 1960, she became the first photographer to be honoured with a major retrospective in London, at the Whitechapel Art Gallery. She later continued to document conceptualist artists such as Gustav Metzger and John Latham and life in Cuba and Moscow. Featuring unseen archive material, this reappraisal provides a valuable record of the international art world as documented by Kar over three decades while literary subjects exhibited include Doris Lessing, Colin MacInnes and T S Eliot.
Ida Kar: Bohemian Photographer, 1908-74 charts the photographer’s life and career from her first studio in Cairo in the late 1930s to her move to London in 1945, where she was introduced to the British art world through the family of Jacob Epstein and her husband Victor Musgrave. Her first solo exhibition in London, Forty Artists from London and Paris, at Musgrave’s Gallery One in 1954, included perceptive and sympathetic studies of the artists Stanley Spencer, Tsugouharu Foujita, Alberto Giacometti, Man Ray and Le Corbusier.
Material on display from the photographer’s archive (acquired by the National Portrait Gallery including over 800 of Kar’s vintage prints and 10, 000 negatives) includes letters, a sitters’ book and a portfolio book made in 1954 of her trip to the artists’ studios of Paris.
Her later work includes the leading artists of the St Ives modern art movement (Tatler, 26 July 1961), featuring Patrick Heron, Peter Lanyon, Barbara Hepworth and Terry Frost, and her documentary portraits of Soho bohemia in the 1950s and early 1960s includes The Farm Coffee Shop and artists associated with her husband’s Gallery One. Kar’s portrait of Fidel Castro, included as a contact sheet, taken in Cuba of 1964, demonstrates her political interests and her engagement in promoting her work abroad.
Helena Rubinstein by Ida Kar
London - Ida Kar, Unknown man Ronald Frederick Henry Duncan, 1951 - National Portrait Gallery
Bridget Riley by Ida Kar, 1963 - National Portrait Gallery