Louise Dahl-Wolfe (1895–1989) is one of the most important women fashion photographers of the first part of the 20th century. This is the first major retrospective of her work in the UK, and a key focus of the exhibition is Dahl-Wolfe’s 22 years as leading contributor to Harper’s Bazaar. Considered a pioneer of modern fashion photography, the exhibition highlights how Dahl-Wolfe defined the image of the modern independent post-war woman.
‘From the moment I saw her first colour photographs, I knew Bazaar was at last going to look the way I had instinctively wanted,’ declared editor Carmel Snow. Credited with 86 covers for the magazine, 600 colour plates, and over 2,000 black-and-white photographs, Louise Dahl-Wolfe often photographed on location and mainly outdoors in the then exotic locales of Cuba, South America, Spain and Mexico. Her work appears fresh and spontaneous but was always carefully planned. The exhibition features over 100 photographs spanning three decades, from the 1930s to the 1950s, and presents the work of couture designers Chanel, Balenciaga and Dior, as well as American fashion innovators Claire McCardell and Clare Potter. The models, whose looks set the style for the decade, include Suzy Parker, Jean Patchett, Evelyn Tripp, Mary Jane Russell, Lisa Fonssagrives, Lizzie Gibbons and Liz Benn.
Dahl-Wolfe also created a significant body of portraiture capturing literary figures such as W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood, Colette and Carson McCullers; fashion designers and a major portfolio of Hollywood stars from Bette Davis, Carole Lombard and Vivien Leigh in the 1930s to Lauren Bacall and Veronica Lake in the 1940s. A key focus of the exhibition is Dahl-Wolfe’s 22 years as the lead photographer for Harper’s Bazaar, from 1936 to 1958, working with Snow, fashion director Diana Vreeland and the designer Alexey Brodovitch. The exhibition highlights the influence of Dahl-Wolfe on photographers Horst P. Horst, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. In addition, the Museum will stage a display of other photographic highlights celebrating Bazaar’s 150th anniversary.