Erwin Blumenfeld’s Early Parisian Masterpiece

Born in Berlin to a middle-class Jewish family, Erwin Blumenfeld became one of the greatest innovators of twentieth century photography. From his early black and white nudes to his colourful and glossy fashion photography of the 1950s and 60s, he consistently pushed both stylistic and technical boundaries.

In 1923 Blumenfeld had set up a small shop in Zandvoort, Holland, where he discovered a fully equipped darkroom behind a boarded-up door. He began to photograph his customers, becoming an active part of the Dutch art scene. Blumenfeld’s earliest photographs were influenced by the Parisian avant-garde, news of which reached him through Surrealist journals such as Minotaure. He was especially influenced by the works of Man Ray, and quickly began his own experiments in his darkroom, using techniques such as multiple exposures and solarisation.

Moving to Paris to pursue a career as a professional photographer, Blumenfeld fell ever more under the influences of the avant-garde Surrealist circle. He paid little notice to photographic conventions and traditional practice, using innovative and unconventional techniques. He once stated that if the instructions on a new film roll said never to heat it above room temperature, he would immediately boil it. If it said never let it go below room temperature, he would place it in the freezer. This often resulted in striking and otherworldly images.

Through Blumenfeld’s long and varied career, the female nude is a constant. This photograph is an early example of Blumenfeld’s capacity for innovation, and of his fascination with the female form. Taken shortly after he had moved to Paris, it highlights his mastery of tone and texture, as well as his pursuit of beauty. He had experimented with nudes under veils in Holland, but it was during his time in his Montparnasse studio that he worked most successfully with wet silk, adding mystery to the erotic. The nude figure in Wet Veil is conveyed with all the monumentality of a sculptural relief and is widely considered his earliest masterpiece. This image was published in the important Modernist Parisian art magazine, Verve, placed next to images by Surrealist masters Man Ray, Raoul Ubac and Brassaï. It constituted Blumenfeld’s first recognition by the art establishment.

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