A Gift of Photographs by Irving Penn
The BCMA is excited to announce the recent acquisition of sixteen photographs by Irving Penn (American, 1917–2009). These photographs are a gift of Robert Freson, formerly studio assistant and manager at Penn’s studio, and now a resident of Bailey Island, Maine. Selected with special assistance from representatives at the Irving Penn Foundation, this group of photographs provides a rich overview of Penn’s career.
Penn was one of the great portraitists of the twentieth century. This gift includes portraits made over more than forty years. Penn had a special interest in artists, and the collection includes likenesses of Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keeffe, Marcel Duchamp, and Jacob Lawrence, who is pictured alongside his wife, artist Gwendolyn Knight. Other notable portraits include Louis Armstrong performing with Duke Ellington, and an iconic photograph of the hand of Miles Davis.
Penn was also a celebrated fashion photographer whose images for Vogue and other clients revolutionized the genre. Having studied in the 1930s under the famed modernist designer Alexey Brodovitch, Penn created fashion photographs that transformed models and the clothes they wore into works of modern art. The collection includes four of Penn’s famous fashion images.
Penn experimented with the medium throughout his career. This group of images features notable works utilizing early color processes, as well as examples of platinum-palladium photography. An inveterate traveler, Penn created work on many of his trips. Photographs from France, Peru, and New Guinea are also represented.
Freson worked as Penn’s studio assistant from 1949 to 1962, when he left to pursue his own independent photography career. In 2019 he partnered with the Museum to develop “Photographic Lives: Robert Freson, Irving Penn, and the Portrait,” an exhibition curated by Museum student intern Ellery Harkness ’21. We are deeply grateful for his friendship and generosity and look forward to making this collection of photographs accessible to faculty, students, and the wider public.
Frank GoodyearCo-Director, Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Robert Freson, 2010. Photo by Steve Phillips.
The Hand of Miles Davis, New York, 1986, gelatin silver print by Irving Penn. Gift of Robert A. Freson Family, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine. ©The Irving Penn Foundation.