Watch: Arnold Newman’s Portrait of Igor Stravinsky

Giles Huxley-Parlour introduces the October 2018 exhibition Masters of Photography by discussing Arnold Newman’s 1946 photograph of the composer and pianist Igor Stravinsky.

The portrait has become Newman’s best-known image partly because it is the best example of what has become known as ‘Environmental Portraiture’, which was an innovative style of portraiture that Newman developed in the 1940s.

Newman was a painter by training and he saw all of his portraits in terms of aesthetics as much as a picture of the sitter, the present picture is a great example of that. Here, you have Newman thinking through the graphic forms that can be created using the piano lid. In fact, Stravinsky himself is a tiny portion of this photograph, and the remaining imagery becomes an abstracted composition, using the lid of the piano to reflect the shape of a musical note.

Vintage prints of this image are extremely rare – perhaps six or seven are known to have passed through the market over the last ten or twenty years. The present print is unusual for a vintage print in terms of its large size, meaning it was probably an exhibition print. We’re not sure which exhibition it was made for, but the original mountings have been preserved on full view through glass at the back of the frame. It is a fascinating historical object, and an extremely rare piece of photographic history that we were pleased to include as part of our group exhibition, Masters of Photography, in 2018.


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