Karsh: 50 Years of Photographs by Yousuf Karsh

17 February to 8 April 1984

Exhibition Handlist

Introduction

From our vantage point in the 1980s, we can see today that Yousuf Karsh belongs to that small elite group of artists whose work has not only affected our perception of people and ideas but has also helped to influence the course of history. The publication of his famous photograph of Churchill on the cover of Life magazine in 1942 is generally accepted as having played a large part in diverting the attention of the American public to the plight of Britain and convincing them of our fighting spirit and determination to survive. Karsh has always had a special relationship with Britain, for following the international success accorded to him for the Churchill photograph, in 1943 he boarded a Norwegian freighter containing a cargo of explosives which was bound from Canada to Britain and stayed in London to photograph wartime leaders and intellectuals. Many of these photographs were published in the Illustrated London News and played their own part in raising the nation’s morale. Since then he has returned to Britain many times and on one of his last visits in 1976 photographed the present Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Margaret Thatcher.

Karsh’s ability to produce the ‘definitive’ portrait of so many of the great men and women of our times, not only Churchill but Kennedy, Khrushchev, Castro, Hemingway and others, is not achieved lightly. In addition to the long sittings he often requires, he researches his sitters thoroughly before meeting them, and his careful studio lighting, which he first learned with the Ottawa Little Theatre in the 1930s, is legendary, Courage, too, is required, for who else would have dared to pull the cigar from Churchill’s mouth or persuaded Khrushchev to dress up in a large fur coat?

It is appropriate that the National Portrait Gallery should be showing at last an exhibition of the work of one of the world’s most famous portrait photographers. It not only contains most of Karsh’s best-known photographs but has an added emphasis on the British sitters he has photographed.

The exhibition was organised by Colin Ford, Director of the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford, and received its first showing there last year.  All the prints were generously donated to Bradford by Yousuf Karsh. For the showing at the National Portrait Gallery, the exhibition has been augmented by a number of photographs of English sitters, and we extend our gratitude both to Karsh for the magnanimous gift to the Gallery of the extra prints and to Colin Ford for the loan to the Bradford exhibition. 1983 not only Karsh’s 75th birthday, but also the publication of his latest book, Karsh: A Fifty-Year Retrospective. On both these happy events, we offer our congratulations.

Robin Gibson

Curator, 20th Century Department

Catalogue

1. Yousuf Karsh 1976
Photographer, Ottawa

2. A girl from Texas 1927
Vintage ‘sanguine’ bromoil

3. Children at play 1928
Vintage bromoil, Sherbrooke, Ontario

4. The Fenway, Boston, Massachusetts 1928
Vintage bromoil

5. John H Garo 1930
Photographer and Karsh’s teacher
Boston, Massachusetts

6. John Buchan, Lord Tweedsmuir, Canadian Governor General;
William Lyon Mackenzie King
, Canadian Prime Minister
Franklin D, Roosevelt
, American President
James Roosevelt
, the President’s son
1936, The Citadel, Quebec

7. Elixir 1940
Early photographic experiment, Ottawa

8. City of straws 1940
Early photographic experiment, Ottawa

9. Jean-Louis Barrault 1941
Actor and director
Paris

10. Sir Winston Churchill 1941
Statesman and Prime Minister
Ottawa

11. Sir Winston Churchill 1941
Statesman and Prime Minister
Ottawa

12. Paul Robeson 1941
Singer and actor
Ottawa

13. Sir Noel Coward 1943
Actor and playwright, London

14. Sir David Low 1943
Cartoonist, London

15. Louis Mountbatten, Earl of Mountbatten of Burma 1943
Admiral of the Fleet
London

16. George Bernard Shaw 1943
Author and playwright
London

17. H. G. Wells 1943
Writer
London

18. Clement Attlee
1st Earl Attlee 1944
Labour politician and Prime Minister
London

19. Sir Anthony Eden,
Earl of Avon 1945
Statesman and Prime Minister
San Francisco

20. Humphery Bogart 1946
Film actor
Holmby Hills, California

21. Bette Davis 1946
Film actress
Laguna Beach, California

22. General Dwight D. Eisenhower 1946
Soldier, statesman and President
Washington DC

23. Boris Karloff 1846
Film actor
Hollywood

24. Peter Lorre 1946
Film actor
Hollywood

25. Elizabeth Taylor 1946
Film actress
Hollywood

26. Kurt Weill 1946
Composer
Rockland County, New York State

27. Joan Crawford 1948
Film actress
Beverly Hills, Hollywood

28. Albert Einstein 1948
Physicist
Princeton, New Jersey

29. Helen Keller with her companion, Polly Thompson 1948
Blind and deaf writer
New York

30. Beatrice Lillie, Lady Peel 1948
Stage actress and comedienne

31. François Mauriac 1949
Writer
Paris

32. Henry Moore 1949
Sculptor
Much Hadham, Hertfordshire

33. J. Arthur Rank 1949
Film Producer
London

34. J. B Priestly 1949
Writer
London

35. Jan Sibelius 1949
Composer
Finland

36. Ralph Vaughan Williams 1949
Composer
Surrey

37. William Somerset Maugham 1950
Novelist and playwright
New York

38.  Richard Rogers, composer
Oscar Hammerstein
, Lyricist 1950
New York

39. Steelworkers 1950
Atlas Steel Plant, Welland, Ontario

40. Harold Wilson, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx 1950
Labour politician and Prime Minister

41. Ford spray painters 1951
Windsor, Ontario

42. William Holder 1953
Sailmaker
St John, New Brunswick

43. Prairie wheat farmer 1953
Regina, Saskatchewan

44. Indian Man 1953
Edmonton, Alberta

45.  Inuit woman in hospital 1953
Edmonton, Alberta

46. Coalminer 1953
Nova Scotia

47. Benjamin Britten, Lord Britten of Aldeburgh 1954
Composer
Aldeburgh, Suffolk

48. Pablo Casals 1954
Cellist
Prades, France

49. Walt Disney 1954
Film-maker and entrepreneur
Burbank, California

50. Sir Alexander Fleming 1954
Discoverer of penicillin
St Mary’s Hospital, London

51. Bernard Law Montgomery, Field-Marshal Lord Montgomery of Alamein 1954
Military commander
Fontainbleau, France

52. Laurence Olivier, Lord Olivier of Brighton 1954
Actor
London

53. Pablo Picasso 1954
Artist
Vallauris, France

54. Albert Schweitzer 1954
Physician, musician and theologian
Gunsbach, Alsace

55. Gilbert Murray 1955
Classical scholar
Oxford

56. Sir Jacob Epstein
Sculptor
London

57. Samuel Barber 1956
Composer
Mount Kisco, New York

58. Sir Winston Churchill 1956
Statesman and Prime Minister
London

59. Aaron Copland 1956
Composer
Ossining, New York

60. Cecil B. de Mille 1956
Film director
Los Angeles

61. Anita Ekberg 1956
Film actress
Hollywood

62. Jawaharlal Pandit Nehru 1956
Statesman, Indian nationalist and Prime Minister

63. Georgia O’Keeffe 1956
Painter
Albuquerque, New Mexico

64. Robert Oppenheimer 1956
Physicist
Princeton, New Jersey

65. Ernest Hemingway 1957
Writer
Havana, Cuba

66. Lester B. Pearson 1957
Statesman and Canadian Prime Minister
Ottawa

67. Andrés Segovia 1957
Guitarist
New York

68. Brigitte Bardot 1958
Film actress
Paris

69. Norman McLaren
Film-Maker
Ottawa

70. Anna Magnani 1958
Actress
Rome

71. Sir Edmund Hillary 1960
Mountaineer
Chicago

72. John F. Kennedy 1960
Statesman and President
Washington DC

73. Nikita Khrushchev 1963
Statesman and Soviet Premier
Near Moscow

74. Zulu mother and child 1963
Natal National Park, South Africa

75. Leslie Caron 1963
Actress
London

76. Graham Greene 1964
Writer
London

77. Evelyn Waugh 1964
Writer
Taunton, Somerset

78. Marc Chagall 1965
Artist
Paris

79. Max Ernst 1965
Painter and sculptor
Tours, France

80. Alberto Giacometti 1965
Sculptor
Paris

81. Joan Miró 1965
Artist
Paris

82. Man Ray 1965
Photographer and painter
Paris

83. Jean-Paul Riopelle 1965
Artist
Paris

84. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh 1966
Buckingham Palace

85. Alexander Calder 1966
Sculptor
Tours, France

86. Ravi Shankar 1968
Sitar player
New York

87. Joan Baez 1970
Folk singer
San Francisco

88. Yasunari Kawabata 1970
Writer
Kamakura, Japan

89. Edward Steichen 1970
Photographer
West Redding, Connecticut

90. Fidel Castro 1971
Revolutionary leader and statesman
Havana, Cuba

91. Melina Mercouri 1971
Actress and politician
New York

92. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor 1971
New York

93. Jacques Cousteau 1972
Oceanographer
Los Angeles

94. Karen Magnussen 1973
Skater
Ottawa

95. Msitslav Rostropovitch 1974
Cellist
Arles, France

96. His Royal Highness Charles, Prince of Wales 1975
Ottawa

97. Rt Hon Margaret Thatcher 1976
Conservative politician and Prime Minister
London

98. Jessie Oonark 1979
Eskimo printmaker
Baker Lake, Northwest Territories

99. Dr R. Buckminster Fuller 1980
Mathematician
New York

100. Sophia Loren 1981
Film actress
Paris

Chronology

1908
Born in Mardin, Armenia-in-Turkey to Bahai Nakash and Amsih Karsh, an import-export merchant, on 23 December.

1924
Emigrated to Canada and lived with his uncle, George Nakash, who had a photographic studio in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

1926-8
After attending college in Sherbrooke, worked as an assistant in his uncle’s photography studio.

1928-31
Studied photography and worked as an apprentice to the Armenian-born portrait photographer John H. Garo in Boston.

1932
Moved to Ottowa to work in the John Powis studio in Sparks Street. Soon after, Powis retired and Karsh took over the lease to establish the Karsh studio.

1933
Met Solange Gauthier (his future wife) while photographing productions of the Little Theatre. Appointed official photographer for the first Dominion Drama Festival held in Ottawa that year.

1934
Publication of many Drama Festival photographs in the prestigious periodical Saturday Night helped establish his Canadian reputation.

1935
Commissioned to do official Canadian Government portraiture.

1939
Married Solange Gauthier (who died in 1961).

1941
Through the influence of the Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, secured an opportunity to photograph Winston Churchill in the Speaker’s Chamber of the Canadian House of Commons.

1943
With partial funding from Saturday Night magazine Karsh travelled to England to photograph forty-two major personalities between September and November including a major series, ‘Men who shape our destinies,’ in the Illustrated London News.

1944
Commissioned by Life magazine to photograph top American political and military leaders in Washington.

1945
Travelled to San Francisco for Life magazine to photograph thirty international representatives at the conference setting up the United Nations.

1946
In January sent to Hollywood by Life magazine to photograph leading film stars including Peter Lorre, Humphrey Bogart and Elizabeth Taylor.

1949
Travelled to Europe and photographed the Pope in Rome, Sibelius in Finland and Mauriac in France.

1951-3
Took a series of industrial photographs for Atlas Steel Works and Ford of Canada.

1954
On a European expedition photographed Marshal Tito in Yugoslavia, Albert Schweitzer and French writers and intellectuals in Paris.

1960
After publication of Portraits of Greatness, the National Gallery of Canada organised an exhibition to tour Canada, The United States and South Africa.

1962
Married Estrellita Nachbar, a writer from Chicago specialising in medical subjects.

1967-9
Appointed Visiting Professor of Ohio University.

1970
Photographic advisor to Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan.

1982
Fifty-year retrospective exhibitions to mark seventy-fifth birthday at the new National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford and the International Center of Photography, New York.