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

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]


In 1908 he was given a camera and started taking and developing photographs.[4] Blumenfeld considered himself a photographer from this point on, for example taking a self-portrait dressed as Pierrot when he was 14 years old.[1][2] However, he had no formal training in photography.[2][5]

Blumenfeld began his career working in Berlin as an apprentice dressmaker to Moses and Schlochauer in 1913. He was drafted into the German army during World War I as an ambulance driver.[6] He planned to desert the army, but his mother had him arrested.[6]

Moving to Amsterdam in 1918, he toiled in the ladies' lingerie departments of department stores. He opened a store specialising in ladies' handbags in Amsterdam in 1923, the "Fox Leather Company." It was situated at the Kalverstraat 116 in the center of the city.

After moving to new premises in Amsterdam in 1932, Blumenfeld discovered a fully equipped darkroom in the building, and he started to photograph some of his female customers (often nude).[1][6] He participated in his first exhibitions at Carl van Lier's gallery nearby, and in 1935 the French magazine Photographie published one of his first photographs for the first time.[1]

Meanwhile, the leather store went bankrupt in 1936.[1] Following a move to Paris on 26 January 1936, Blumenfeld was commissioned to take the portraits of artists including Georges Rouault and Henri Matisse, and he secured his first advertising work for Monsavon. Among other subjects during this period, he photographed Josephine Baker, Cecil Beaton, Leonor Fini, Valeska Gert, Yvette Guilbert, and François Mauriac.[7] Blumenfeld quickly captured the attention of photographer Cecil Beaton who helped him secure a contract with French Vogue in 1937.[1] His family went to Paris, and he briefly went to New York in 1939.[1][7]

After Blumenfeld returned to France, during World War II, Blumenfeld and his family spent time in Vézelay with Le Corbusier and Romain Rolland. He was incarcerated at Camp Vernet and other concentration camps. His daughter Lisette (who had just turned 18) was incarcerated at the Gurs internment camp. Luckily Blumenfeld was bunked next to the husband of the woman Lisette was bunked next to. Through postcards and letters the Blumenfeld family of five managed to reunite. In 1941 they obtained a visa and escaped to North Africa and then New York.[7]

Upon Blumenfeld's arrival in the U.S., Carmel Snow of Harper's Bazaar put him under contract.[5] After three years, he began freelance work for American Vogue. His first double page spread in Vogue on May 15, 1944 was a photograph shot in 1938 of his daughter Lisette's legs. Over the next fifteen years, Blumenfeld's work was featured on numerous Vogue covers and in a variety of publications including Flair, Life, and Look. During this period, he also worked as photographer for the Dayton's department store in Minneapolis and produced advertising campaigns for cosmetics clients such as Helena Rubinstein, Elizabeth Arden, and L'Oreal.

By 1950 he was reported to be the highest-paid photographer in the world.[2][5][8] Among his models were Carmen Dell'Orefice and Lisa Fonssagrives.[1] He photographed more covers for Vogue than any photographer before or since.

In the late 1950s, he also began to create motion pictures, hoping to use them commercially. Captured between 1958 and 1964, these were mainly pilots for beauty commercials, aimed at his key clients: Helena Rubenstein, Elizabeth Arden, and L'Oreal. His idea for advertising beauty products on film was described as "ahead of its time."[1] Toward the end of his life, he also began work on his autobiography (which was unpublished during his lifetime) and on his book My One Hundred Best Photos (which, despite his being a renowned fashion photographer, included only four of his fashion images).[2][5]

Artistic influences and techniques

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

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

Berlinische Galerie Berlin; MoMA, NYC; The Jewish Museum, NYC

Selected works

  • "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

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

By Blumenfeld (published posthumously)

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

Exhibition catalogues and monographs

  • 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

  • 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. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22 Blanchard, Tamsin (18 May 2013). "The Extraordinary Story of Erwin Blumenfeld". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 31 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 "The Photographs of Erwin Blumenfeld: Très Glam: A Self-Taught, Self-Made Genius". The Economist. 9 November 2013. Retrieved 31 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Koetzle, Hans-Michael (2011). Photographers A-Z. Cologne: Taschen. p. 42. ISBN 978-3-8365-1109-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Charbit, Nadia Blumenfeld; Cheval, François; Eskildsen, Ute, eds. (2013). Erwin Blumenfeld: Blumenfeld Studio, Color, New York, 1941-1960. Göttingen: Steidl. ISBN 9783869305318.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 5.9 Keats, Jonathon (April 2008). "Exploring the Fabric of Form". Art & Antiques. 31 (4): 89–90, 92, 94.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 Hamlin, Jesse (21 April 2006). "Blumenfeld—Beauty and Mystery". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 31 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 7.11 Whitford, Frank (Autumn 1996). "Erwin Blumenfeld". Modern Painters. 9: 101–103.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 Goldberg, Vicki (19 November 1999). "Photography Review; Finding a Camera and a New Career". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Port, Andy (16 April 2009). "Extra Credit: Erwin Blumenfeld's Dada". T: The New York Times Style Magazine. Retrieved 31 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 Blumenfeld, Erwin (1999). Eye to I: the Autobiography of a Photographer. New York: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-01907-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Earlier editions (in French, German, and Dutch) include:
    • Blumenfeld, Erwin (1975). Jadis et Daguerre. Paris: Robert Laffont.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • Blumenfeld, Erwin (1976). Durch tausendjährige Zeit: [Autobiographie]. Frauenfeld: Huber. ISBN 3-7193-0529-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • Blumenfeld, Erwin (1980). Spiegelbeeld. Amsterdam: De Harmonie. ISBN 90-6169-094-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • Blumenfeld, Erwin (1988). Durch tausendjährige Zeit: Erinnerungen. Berlin: Argon. ISBN 3-87024-135-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • Blumenfeld, Erwin (1996). Jadis et Daguerre. Paris: Ed. de la Martinière. ISBN 2-7324-2266-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    • Blumenfeld, Erwin (1998). Einbildungsroman. Frankfurt am Main: Eichborn-Verl. ISBN 3-82184-162-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 Blumenfeld, Erwin; Teicher, Hendel (1981). Blumenfeld, My One Hundred Best Photos. New York: Rizzoli. ISBN 0-8478-0340-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Earlier published in German as:
    • Blumenfeld, Erwin (1979). Meine 100 besten Fotos. Bern: Benteli. ISBN 3-7165-0308-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. CollectionRijksmuseum
  13. "Photographs, New York, 5 April 2013, Sale #2691" (PDF). Christie's. Retrieved 31 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. 14.0 14.1 Best, Susan-Marie (March–April 1997). "Blumenfeld: a Fetish for Beauty". frieze (33). Retrieved 31 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Cole, Lori (8 February 2011). "Erwin Blumenfeld". Artforum. Retrieved 31 January 2014. Unknown parameter |registration= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. 16.0 16.1 Groppo, Pierre (16 October 2013). "Erwin Blumenfeld: A Prodigy at the Jeu de Paume". Vogue Paris. Retrieved 31 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Erwin Blumenfeld. New York: Witkin Gallery. 1978. OCLC 7073314.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. 18.0 18.1 Blumenfeld, Dada Collages, 1916-1931. Jerusalem: Israel Museum. 1981. OCLC 8890876.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Photos de Mode d'Erwin Blumenfeld". Centre Pompidou. Retrieved 31 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. 20.0 20.1 Erwin Blumenfeld: Dada Collage and Photography. New York: Rachel Adler Gallery. 1988. OCLC 20774702.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. 21.0 21.1 Ewing, William A.; Schinz, Marina (1996). Blumenfeld: Photographs: a Passion for Beauty. New York: Abrams. ISBN 0-8109-3145-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. 22.0 22.1 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. Osaki, Tomohiro (7 March 2013). "Erwin Blumenfeld: A Hidden Ritual of Beauty". The Japan Times. Retrieved 31 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Forde, Gerard (1993). Paul Citroen & Erwin Blumenfeld, 1919-1939. London: Photographers' Gallery. ISBN 0-907879-39-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Métayer, Michel (2004). Erwin Blumenfeld. London; New York: Phaidon. ISBN 0-7148-4193-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. Johnson, Robert Flynn; Dachy, Marc (2006). Erwin Blumenfeld: Paintings, Drawings, Collages & Photographs. San Francisco, CA: Modernism. ISBN 0-9761509-1-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. Siemens, Jochen (2011). Erwin Blumenfeld (Stern Fotografie Portfolio No. 65). Gruner + Jahr. ISBN 978-3-652-00006-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. "The Man Who Shot Beautiful Women". BBC Four. BBC. 19 May 2013. Retrieved 31 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Naylor, Colin, ed. (1988). "Erwin Blumenfeld". Contemporary Photographers (2nd ed.). Chicago: St. James Press. ISBN 0-912289-79-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Blecksmith, Anne (2006). "Erwin Blumenfeld". In Warren, Lynne (ed.). Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Photography, Volume 1. New York: Routledge. pp. 141–143. ISBN 0-415-97665-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Eskildsen, Ute (2014). Erwin Blumenfeld. Photos, Drawings, and Montages. Jeu de Paume. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-19938-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links