Erwin Blumenfeld

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Erwin Blumenfeld
Born (1897-01-26)January 26, 1897
Berlin, Germany
Died January 4, 1969(1969-01-04) (aged 71)
Rome, Italy
Known for Photography

Erwin Blumenfeld (1897–1969) was a photographer and artist born in Germany. He was best known for his fashion photography published in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar in the 1940s and 1950s.[1][2] In addition to fashion photography, he produced an extensive body of celebrity portraiture, fine-art photography (including black and white nudes), drawings, and Dada collages. He made photographs while a resident of Germany, the Netherlands, France, and the United States, and has been called "one of the most innovative and influential photographers of the 20th century."[1]

Early life[edit]

Blumenfeld was born 26 January 1897 in Berlin.[3][4] He was of Jewish descent.[1] His parents were Albert Blumenfeld and Emma Blumenfeld, née Cohn.[4] He had a younger brother Heinz and an older sister Annie.[1]


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Artistic influences and techniques[edit]

Blumenfeld's photograph of a 1955 DeSoto Fireflite

The influences on his work include:

His more personal work was in black-and-white; his commercial work in fashion, much for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, was mostly in color. In both media he was a great innovator. The work drew on his extensive background in classical and modern painting. He was one of the few artists to do all of his printing, both color and black-and-white, in the darkroom himself. Among other techniques in his photography and darkroom work, he used mirrors, veils, double exposure, solarisation, and sandwich printing.[5][6][7]

His Dada-style collages were "never meant for public airing… [and were] given away as gifts and sent as letters, mainly to his future wife."[9] The themes for his collages included anti-Semitism.[8]

Personal life, death, and legacy[edit]

In 1921 Blumenfeld married Lena Citroen, the cousin of his friend Paul Citroen.[1] They had three children: Lisette (later Lisette Blumenfeld Georges), Heinz (Henry), and Franck (Yorick). From 1936 until 1949 his daughter Lisette was regularly in the studio and in the darkroom with him. Furthermore, Lisette was the muse of his career; Blumenfeld photographed her more than any other model.

Blumenfeld had affairs with Kathleen Levy-Barnett, who married Henry, and with Marina Schinz, who married Lawrence Rubin of Knoedler Gallery. The relationship with Schinz began in 1961 when she was 19, and led to her being mentioned in a codicil to his will as "manager" of his artistic works a job which she henceforth neglected.

Blumenfeld died of a heart attack 4 July 1969 in Rome, Italy.[3][4] He had not taken medication for his heart condition, and had been intentionally running up and down the Spanish Steps to cause a heart attack.[1] Schinz did not call an ambulance.

He left his estate, including thousands of prints, transparencies, and collages, to his three children and wife. Schinz took possession of an unknown number of prints and negatives disregarding Blumenfeld's will.[1] His autobiography and his book My One Hundred Best Photos were published posthumously, in 1975 and 1979 respectively.[10][11] Although the "first major retrospective" of his art occurred only in 1996,[7] his work is thought to have influenced many photographers (e.g., Irving Penn, William Klein, and Richard Avedon),[6] and between 2004 and 2013 at least six books containing his work were published. As of 2015, no U.S. museum has held a solo retrospective exhibition of his work.[5]

Public Collections[edit]

Selected works[edit]

  • "Self-Portrait as Pierrot," Berlin, 1909.[1][2]
  • "Smokers" (collage), 1920-25.[8][9]
  • "Living Mummy," c.1932. A solarized photograph of a woman wrapped in a sheet.[1][5]
  • "Hitler," Holland, 1933. This photomontage "combin[ed] a bloodstained skull and the Führer's features."[7] The U.S. used the image in propaganda leaflets airdropped over Germany during World War II.[2][6][8]
  • "Nude Under Wet Silk," Paris, c.1936–1937.[1][2][7]
  • "Dictator," Paris, 1937. This is a photograph of a "half-draped classical torso topped by a beady-eyed calf's head."[8] A print was sold at auction on 5 April 2013 for $117,750, which was a world record for the artist.[13]
  • "Carmen (Rodin's Model for The Kiss)," Paris, 1937. At the time of the photograph, the 80-year-old model was "a weary-looking woman with sagging breasts and a down-turned mouth."[6]
  • "Lisa Fonssagrives on the Eiffel Tower," Paris, 1939.[1][2][7] The model "teeters high on a ledge… [with a] billowing dress" by Lucien Lelong.[5][14]
  • "Do Your Part for the Red Cross," American Vogue cover, 15 March 1945.[15][16] This "superimposed a translucent red cross over the blurred figure of a model in a turquoise hat."[2]
  • "Doe Eye," American Vogue cover, January 1950.[1][2] In this photograph, Blumenfeld "reduced… Jean Patchett's visage to eye, mouth and beauty mark, "[5] creating a "visual haiku."[9]
  • "In Hoc Signo Vinces" ("By This Sign, You Will Conquer," also known as "Holy Cross"), 1967.[16] This is a "shot of a woman's buttocks and thighs forming the lines of a cross."[6]

Selected exhibitions[edit]

Significant exhibitions of his work include:

  • "Erwin Blumenfeld": 8 March – 8 April 1978, Witkin Gallery, New York[17]
  • "Blumenfeld, Dada Collages, 1916–1931": 1981, Israel Museum, Jerusalem[18]
  • "Photos de Mode d'Erwin Blumenfeld": 21 November 1981 – 25 January 1982, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris[19]
  • "Erwin Blumenfeld: Dada Collage and Photography": 27 October 1988 – 26 November 1988, Rachel Adler Gallery, New York[20]
  • "Erwin Blumenfeld: a Fetish for Beauty": 12 September 1996 – 15 December 1996, Barbican Centre, London[7][14][21] (an exhibit which travelled to many cities in Europe, including Zurich, Lausanne, Berlin, Paris, and Amsterdam)
  • "Erwin Blumenfeld: Collages 1916-1934": 30 October 1999 – 23 December 1999, Ubu Gallery, New York[8]
  • "Erwin Blumenfeld: Nudes": 23 October 1999 – 27 November 1999, James Danziger Gallery, New York[8]
  • "Erwin Blumenfeld: His Dutch Years, 1918-1936": 9 September 2006 – 26 November 2006, Hague Museum of Photography, The Netherlands[22]
  • "Blumenfeld Studio: Color, New York, 1941–1960": 16 June 2012 – 23 September 2012, Musée Nicéphore Niépce, Chalon-sur-Saône, France; 2 March 2013 – 5 May 2013, Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany; 23 May 2013 – 1 September 2013, Somerset House, London[1][4]
  • "Erwin Blumenfeld: A Hidden Ritual of Beauty": 5 March 2013 – 6 May 2013, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography[23]
  • "Erwin Blumenfeld (1897-1969): Photographs, Drawings and Photomontages": 15 October 2013 – 26 January 2014, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris; February 2014, Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow[2]

Selected books in English[edit]

By Blumenfeld (published posthumously)[edit]

  • Blumenfeld, My One Hundred Best Photos, 1979[11]
  • Eye to I: the Autobiography of a Photographer, 1999[10]

Exhibition catalogues and monographs[edit]

  • Blumenfeld, Dada Collages, 1916-1931 by Israel Museum, 1981[18]
  • Erwin Blumenfeld: Dada Collage and Photography by Rachel Adler Gallery, 1988[20]
  • Paul Citroen & Erwin Blumenfeld, 1919-1939 by Gerard Forde, 1993[24]
  • Blumenfeld: Photographs: a Passion for Beauty by William A. Ewing, 1996[7][21]
  • The Naked and the Veiled: the Photographic Nudes of Erwin Blumenfeld by Yorick Blumenfeld, 1999[25]
  • Erwin Blumenfeld by Michel Métayer, 2004[26]
  • Erwin Blumenfeld: His Dutch Years, 1918-1936 by Wim van Sinderen and Helen Adkins, 2006[22]
  • Erwin Blumenfeld: Paintings, Drawings, Collages & Photographs by Robert Flynn Johnson and Marc Dachy, 2006[27]
  • Erwin Blumenfeld: I Was Nothing But a Berliner: Dada Montages, 1916–1933 by Helen Adkins, 2008[9][28]
  • Erwin Blumenfeld by Jochen Siemens, 2011[29]
  • Erwin Blumenfeld: Blumenfeld Studio, Color, New York, 1941-1960 by Nadia Blumenfeld Charbit and others, 2013[4]

Documentary film[edit]

  • The Man Who Shot Beautiful Women (2013), a BBC Four TV documentary about Blumenfeld's life, work, and legacy.[30] It was produced by Blumenfeld's grandson Remy Blumenfeld.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Blanchard, Tamsin (18 May 2013). "The Extraordinary Story of Erwin Blumenfeld". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "The Photographs of Erwin Blumenfeld: Très Glam: A Self-Taught, Self-Made Genius". The Economist. 9 November 2013. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Koetzle, Hans-Michael (2011). Photographers A-Z. Cologne: Taschen. p. 42. ISBN 978-3-8365-1109-4. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Charbit, Nadia Blumenfeld; Cheval, François; Eskildsen, Ute, eds. (2013). Erwin Blumenfeld: Blumenfeld Studio, Color, New York, 1941-1960. Göttingen: Steidl. ISBN 9783869305318. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Keats, Jonathon (April 2008). "Exploring the Fabric of Form". Art & Antiques. 31 (4): 89–90, 92, 94. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hamlin, Jesse (21 April 2006). "Blumenfeld—Beauty and Mystery". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Whitford, Frank (Autumn 1996). "Erwin Blumenfeld". Modern Painters. 9: 101–103. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Goldberg, Vicki (19 November 1999). "Photography Review; Finding a Camera and a New Career". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  9. ^ a b c d Port, Andy (16 April 2009). "Extra Credit: Erwin Blumenfeld's Dada". T: The New York Times Style Magazine. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  10. ^ a b Blumenfeld, Erwin (1999). Eye to I: the Autobiography of a Photographer. New York: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-01907-X.  Earlier editions (in French, German, and Dutch) include:
    • Blumenfeld, Erwin (1975). Jadis et Daguerre. Paris: Robert Laffont. 
    • Blumenfeld, Erwin (1976). Durch tausendjährige Zeit: [Autobiographie]. Frauenfeld: Huber. ISBN 3-7193-0529-5. 
    • Blumenfeld, Erwin (1980). Spiegelbeeld. Amsterdam: De Harmonie. ISBN 90-6169-094-3. 
    • Blumenfeld, Erwin (1988). Durch tausendjährige Zeit: Erinnerungen. Berlin: Argon. ISBN 3-87024-135-7. 
    • Blumenfeld, Erwin (1996). Jadis et Daguerre. Paris: Ed. de la Martinière. ISBN 2-7324-2266-5. 
    • Blumenfeld, Erwin (1998). Einbildungsroman. Frankfurt am Main: Eichborn-Verl. ISBN 3-82184-162-1. 
  11. ^ a b Blumenfeld, Erwin; Teicher, Hendel (1981). Blumenfeld, My One Hundred Best Photos. New York: Rizzoli. ISBN 0-8478-0340-6.  Earlier published in German as:
    • Blumenfeld, Erwin (1979). Meine 100 besten Fotos. Bern: Benteli. ISBN 3-7165-0308-8. 
  12. ^ CollectionRijksmuseum
  13. ^ "Photographs, New York, 5 April 2013, Sale #2691" (PDF). Christie's. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  14. ^ a b Best, Susan-Marie (March–April 1997). "Blumenfeld: a Fetish for Beauty". frieze (33). Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  15. ^ Cole, Lori (8 February 2011). "Erwin Blumenfeld". Artforum. Retrieved 31 January 2014. (registration required (help)). 
  16. ^ a b Groppo, Pierre (16 October 2013). "Erwin Blumenfeld: A Prodigy at the Jeu de Paume". Vogue Paris. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  17. ^ Erwin Blumenfeld. New York: Witkin Gallery. 1978. OCLC 7073314. 
  18. ^ a b Blumenfeld, Dada Collages, 1916-1931. Jerusalem: Israel Museum. 1981. OCLC 8890876. 
  19. ^ "Photos de Mode d'Erwin Blumenfeld". Centre Pompidou. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  20. ^ a b Erwin Blumenfeld: Dada Collage and Photography. New York: Rachel Adler Gallery. 1988. OCLC 20774702. 
  21. ^ a b Ewing, William A.; Schinz, Marina (1996). Blumenfeld: Photographs: a Passion for Beauty. New York: Abrams. ISBN 0-8109-3145-1.  Released in the U.K. as:
    • Ewing, William A.; Schinz, Marina (1996). Blumenfeld: A Fetish for Beauty. London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-54202-3. 
  22. ^ a b van Sinderen, Wim; Adkins, Helen (2006). Erwin Blumenfeld: His Dutch Years, 1918-1936. The Hague and Rotterdam: Fotomuseum Den Haag and Veenman Publishers. ISBN 90-8690-033-X. 
  23. ^ Osaki, Tomohiro (7 Mar 2013). "Erwin Blumenfeld: A Hidden Ritual of Beauty". The Japan Times. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  24. ^ Forde, Gerard (1993). Paul Citroen & Erwin Blumenfeld, 1919-1939. London: Photographers' Gallery. ISBN 0-907879-39-X. 
  25. ^ Blumenfeld, Yorick (1999). The Naked and the Veiled: the Photographic Nudes of Erwin Blumenfeld. New York: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-54230-9. 
  26. ^ Métayer, Michel (2004). Erwin Blumenfeld. London; New York: Phaidon. ISBN 0-7148-4193-5. 
  27. ^ Johnson, Robert Flynn; Dachy, Marc (2006). Erwin Blumenfeld: Paintings, Drawings, Collages & Photographs. San Francisco, CA: Modernism. ISBN 0-9761509-1-3. 
  28. ^ Adkins, Helen (2008). Erwin Blumenfeld: I Was Nothing But a Berliner: Dada Montages, 1916–1933. Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz. ISBN 978-3-7757-2127-1. 
  29. ^ Siemens, Jochen (2011). Erwin Blumenfeld (Stern Fotografie Portfolio No. 65). Gruner + Jahr. ISBN 978-3-652-00006-2. 
  30. ^ "The Man Who Shot Beautiful Women". BBC Four. BBC. 19 May 2013. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Naylor, Colin, ed. (1988). "Erwin Blumenfeld". Contemporary Photographers (2nd ed.). Chicago: St. James Press. ISBN 0-912289-79-1. 
  • Blecksmith, Anne (2006). "Erwin Blumenfeld". In Warren, Lynne. Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Photography, Volume 1. New York: Routledge. pp. 141–143. ISBN 0-415-97665-0. 
  • Eskildsen, Ute (2014). Erwin Blumenfeld. Photos, Drawings, and Montages. Jeu de Paume. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-19938-3. 

External links[edit]