The Face of the Artist: John Hedgecoe's photographs at the Sainsbury Centre

By Richard Moss | 19 July 2011
a colour photo of Francis Bacon with purple shirt and black tie next to an abstract painting
John Hedgecoe, Francis Bacon (1959)© 2011 John Hedgecoe/TopFoto
Exhibition: The Face of the Artist: Photographs by John Hedgecoe, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, until Sunday December 4 2011

Although he favoured working with visual artists the portrait photographer John Hedgecoe (1932 - 2010) photographed kings, queens and even the odd statesman or two.

In a 50-year career he snapped everyone from Francis Bacon to the Queen of England and his ionic 1966 image of Queen Elizabeth II still graces UK postage stamps. The many images of his dear friend, sculptor Henry Moore, were described by art historian Richard Calvorcoressi as “among the most important visual records we have of Moore’s life and work.”

Little wonder then that Hedgecoe is regarded as a towering figure of 20th century British portrait photography.

But he was also a writer and an educator whose best-selling how-to books on photography sold millions of copies in his lifetime. In the mid-1960s he persuaded the Royal College of Art (RCA) to let him to create a department of photography where in 1975 he became their first Professor of Photography.

an abstract portrait painting of a figure with lines runnig through it and behind it
Sketch for a Portrait of Lisa (1955), Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection. Photo: James Austin© Estate of Francis Bacon, 2011. All rights reserved, DACS.
The photographic fruits of this remarkable career are currently enjoying an impressive retrospective at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art which recently acquired a major collection of Hedgecoe portraits. To add to the sense of time and place they have paired many of these vivid shots with artworks from the Centre’s permanent collections.

Visitors can view Hedgecoe’s expressive portrait of Henry Moore - with hands raised dramatically towards the lens - alongside his iconic sculpture, Mother and Child. The painter and illustrator Anthony Green - resplendent in fedora, cigarette in hand - is similarly displayed alongside his verdant painting My Mother Alone in her Dining Room.

A selection of ceramics accompanies the portrait of Lucie Rie and Lynn Chadwick and Elisabeth Frink are likewise displayed alongside their sculptures.

One of Hedgecoe’s most vivid portraits, of Francis Bacon pictured in 1969 at the RCA shortly after he had accidently burned down his studio, sits next to Bacon’s 1955 Sketch for a Portrait of Lisa.

Other well-known artists and writers, such as Dame Barbara Hepworth and Laurie Lee together with famous names from fashion and the stage like Sir Noël Coward and Mary Quant also make appearances. All of them seem to have benefited from Hedgecoe's magical touch.

Hedgecoe perfected a gently unconventional yet somehow flamboyant style that managed to range from the elegantly formal to the spontaneously informal. Many of them appeared in newspapers and magazine titles. Today these famous faces reside in major collections around the world.

More photographs from the exhibition:

a black and white photo of a man in a striped shirt holding his outspread hands towards the lens
John Hedgecoe, Henry Moore (1966)© 2011 John Hedgecoe/TopFoto
a colour photo of a woman in an interior surrounded by ceramics
John Hedgecoe, Dame Lucie Rie (1980)© 2011 John Hedgecoe/TopFoto
a colour photograph of a stylish young woman in an elegant 1960s interior
John Hedgecoe, Mary Quant at home in Chelsea (1964)© 2011 John Hedgecoe/TopFoto
  • During the summer (until August 28 2011) the exhibition will coincide with a Manchester Art Gallery touring exhibition, A World Observed 1940 – 2010: Photographs by Dorothy Bohm.

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