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Berenice Abbott

/Works and biography

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Peggy Guggenheim, ca. 1926
Gelatin silver print, 44.6 x 34.6 cm
Peggy Guggenheim Collection Archives, Venice. Purchase, 1988
(courtesy Ikona Gallery, Venice)


One day Peggy Guggenheim, who often lent her financial support to the Paris colony of artists and writers, telephoned Man Ray to arrange a studio appointment to have her portrait taken, not by Man Ray himself, but by Berenice. Afterwards Man Ray was livid, he now realized that Berenice had become a serious business rival, and the next day he fired her. Berenice immediately made plans to have a studio of her own and friends of Berenice stepped forward to help her. When she made arrangements to purchase a view camera – a camera that exposed one photograph at a time on a 4” x 5” negative, from which prints were made – Peggy Guggenheim lent her the money to pay for it. As partial repayment, Berenice later photographed Peggy’s children. In 1926, she had her first solo exhibition (in the gallery "Au Sacre du Printemps") and started her own studio on the rue du Bac.

This portrait was commissioned by Peggy Guggenheim while Berenice Abbott was working as a darkroom assistant for the photographer Man Ray. As a portrait photographer Abbott wished to develop a style that was different from that of her teacher, Man Ray, avoiding anything contrived or fanciful. Abbott wanted to allow the strength of the female sitter to shine through and felt that a portrait should be much more than a likeness. It should reveal the subject’s character. Facial expression, dress and surroundings, gesture or mannerism – all of these were to work toward some idea of the person’s inner life. Consequently, Abbott’s portrait of Peggy expertly captures the essence of the future art collector (who also had a lifelong love of dogs).

credits: Hangar Design Group