Issue #164  10/24/2009
Irving Penn Passes Away At Home in Manhattan At The Age of 92

Fashion photographer Irving Penn passed away on October 7th at his home in Manhattan. He was 92. Noted for his simple, but elegant style, Penn became a longtime fixture in Vogue magazine, starting in 1943. In fact his last image in Vogue, which was a still-life of aging bananas, appeared in the most recent August issue. The publication honored the old master in its July 2007 issue, when Penn turned 90.

Represented by New York dealer and confidant Peter MacGill of Pace/MacGill Gallery, Penn seemed like an omnipresent figure in the art world despite his early commercial orientation. Andy Grundberg writing in the New York Times attributed his artistic success to the same "compositional clarity and economy" that made up Penn's fashion and commercial work.

Grundberg noted in his obituary of Penn: "Instead of offering spontaneity, Mr. Penn provided the illusion of something fixed, his gaze precisely describing the profile of a Balenciaga coat or of a Moroccan djellaba in a way that could almost mesmerize the viewer. Nothing escaped the edges of his photographs unless he commanded it. Except for a series of close-up portraits that cut his subjects' heads off at the forehead, and another, stranger suite of overripe nudes, his subjects were usually shown whole, apparently enjoying a splendid isolation from the real world."

In recent years, his prints helped boost the fortunes of the New York and London auction rooms, especially at Christie's where he has been a favorite. The most recent results at the October New York photography auctions just hours and days after his death might not be completely reflective of that impact yet, although several works did hit new highs, while others went quite low.

Penn donated photographs to the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C. His archives are at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Born in Plainfield, NJ, in 1917, Penn studied at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art from 1934 to 1938, and worked as an assistant at Harper's Bazaar in 1939.

Penn married fashion model Lisa Fonssagrives in 1950, and she remained one of his favorite and most sought-after subjects. She passed away in 1992.

Penn is survived by his son, Tom, with Fonssagrives. Fonssagrives also had a daughter, Mia, from a previous marriage.