|Born||Wilfred Roy Beny
January 7, 1924
Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada
|Died||March 16, 1984(aged 60)|
|Awards||Order of Canada|
Roloff Beny, OC (January 7, 1924 – March 16, 1984) was a Canadian photographer who spent the better part of his life in Rome and on his photographic travels throughout the world. Born Wilfred Roy Beny in Medicine Hat, Alberta, he later took as his first name Roloff, his mother's maiden name.
Studies and establishing his career
Beny studied at the University of Toronto, took art classes at the Banff Centre for the Arts and the University of Iowa. At Iowa, he studied with master printmaker Mauricio Lasansky. A print by Lasansky was given by Beny along with his entire collection of International and Canadian art, the collection of his own art along with his archival papers to the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery. The collection is searchable online. Beny established this extensive study archive at the university in the city of his upbringing, Lethbridge AB. He maintained a photographic studio in Lethbridge throughout his life. He utilized the studio when returning to visit his relatives, many of whom continue to live there.
Development of fame
Beny had a considerable reputation and exhibition record as the maker of progressive painting, drawing and printmaking in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He was recognized as one of the leading abstract artists of his day with works of the period exhibited and collected at that time by distinguished institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Art Gallery of Ontario and National Gallery of Canada among others. His work in 'fine art': painting, drawing and prints is discussed in the book by Mitchell Crites: "Roloff Beny Visual Journey."
Canada, as Beny remarked, had "no temples two thousand years old, no paths worn hard by passionate travelers." But the photographer soon found his way to those paths and temples in the course of "insatiable wanderings in Europe and Asia," and, above all, around the long, richly-indented perimeter of the Mediterranean. Beny was in early days a protégé of Peggy Guggenheim and Herbert Read. The circle of friends around him—actors, artists, collectors, writers—included such figures as Laurence Olivier, Stephen Spender, Rose Macauly, Bernhard Berenson, Jean Cocteau, Henry Moore, and other luminaries of art and literature. His readers, like his travels, are international, and his books have been published in America, Canada, England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iran, and Japan.
Career in its peak; life's end
Roloff Beny, as he called himself, was a man obsessed with the beauty of the world. He has most justly been called "a poetic photographer" and he was a passionate aesthete whose eye transfigured everything he saw. His photographic journeys were recorded in a series of splendid large-scale volumes which appeared over the years. His visual journey led from his hometown of Medicine Hat, Alberta, in the shadow of the Canadian Rockies, to a penthouse overlooking the Tiber in Rome, which was his base for more than 30 years. Beny's work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Canada, and the Yale University Art Gallery. "I see majestic ruins even in the architecture of the skies," he wrote in the Preface to one of his splendid and marvelous books.
Roloff Beny died in 1984 of a heart attack, aged 60, in his Roman studio overlooking the Tiber. His last four volumes appeared posthumously.
Roloff Beny's books
His books won awards throughout a long career, beginning with The Thrones of Earth and Heaven in 1958. To Every Thing There is a Season: Roloff Beny in Canada is a study of his native land. In 1972 he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. He was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.