Hoppé Portraits

Society, Studio & Street

Hoppé Portraits: Society, Studio and Street

17 February – 30 May 2011

The missing link in British photography between Frederick Evans and those contrasting moderns, Bill Brandt and Cecil Beaton

Mark Haworth-Booth, 2006

E.O. Hoppé is one of the most important photographers of the first half of the twentieth century. Celebrated during his lifetime, much of Hoppé’s work has only recently been reassembled and this major survey will enable visitors to discover a forgotten master.

Featuring 150 works, The exhibition includes Hoppé’s strikingly modernist portraits of society figures and important personalities from the worlds of literature, politics and the arts, including George Bernard Shaw, Margot Fonteyn, Albert Einstein, Vita Sackville-West and members of the royal family.

These studio portraits will be shown alongside his fascinating photojournalist studies of everyday British people ranging from street musicians and circus performers to bus drivers and postmen, which capture the realities of day-to-day life between the wars.

Exhibition organised by the National Portrait Gallery, London, in collaboration with Curatorial Assistance / E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection www.eohoppe.com

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Tilly Losch by E.O. Hoppé, 1928 ©2010 Curatorial Assistance, Inc./E.O. Hoppe Estate Collection

Tilly Losch by E.O. Hoppé, 1928
© 2011 Curatorial Assistance, Inc./E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection

Hoppé: Society, Studio, and Street

He may indeed claim to have made the camera sing

Westminster Gazette

E.O. Hoppé (1878–1972) was one of the most influential photographers of the first half of the twentieth century. With a knack for conveying the personality of his sitters and an unflinching eye for composition, he was among the most sought-after celebrity portraitists of his day, becoming as famous as the people he photographed. This exhibition reveals previously unseen works and is the first to combine Hoppé’s extraordinary photographs of the famous with those he made outside the studio, in the street.

Born in Munich and resident in Britain from 1902, Emil Otto Hoppé began photographing professionally in 1907 and quickly developed an international reputation for portraying eminent figures from the worlds of literature, politics and the arts. A restless intellect, Hoppé thought deeply about his sitters and wondered why some achieve success while others do not.

Looking for answers, he left the studio periodically to find sitters from the working class, producing a series of publications examining British social structure. In the mid-1920s he published two books on London’s poor, while shuttling between the social elite and London’s down-and-outs. His oeuvre provides an affectionate window on the nation as a whole by creating an unprecedented blend of portraits of the ‘high’ and ‘low’.

In 1922 Hoppé produced a controversial collection of images of beautiful women, which included sitters from various nations and walks of life. Increasingly drawn to photograph on location, often with a hidden camera, in the 1930s he made sensitive studies of ordinary people at work and or in the streets. These masterful observations, brimming with wit and humour, had a major impact on later photographers and foreshadowed the growth of photojournalism during and after the Second World War.

Duke and Duchess of York, later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, by E.O. Hoppé, 1923 © 2010 E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection / Curatorial Assistance Inc.

Duke and Duchess of York, later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother
by E.O. Hoppé, 1923 © 2011 E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection / Curatorial Assistance Inc.

Studio

Some of his studies of famous people are like national portraits: they will go down to all time

Oldham Chronicle

Hoppé began his photographic career from premises in Barons Court in 1907 and quickly developed a reputation as a masterful portraitist. As his practice grew, he moved to larger premises on Baker Street in 1911, and in 1913 moved to 7 Cromwell Place in South Kensington, where he would remain for nearly twenty-five years. He called this studio Millais House, after the Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir John Everett Millais (1829–96) who had worked there in the late 1800s.

Hoppé’s ability to capture the personality of his sitters was achieved, in part, by thoroughly familiarising himself with their creative work. He believed this encouraged his sitters let down their guard, enabling him to make more natural likenesses. Progressive in his thinking, Hoppé was careful to portray women and men with equal attention. In addition to his skills as a photographer Hoppé was also a talented draftsman who produced textile and stage designs for various dance and theatre companies.

Frequently working with narrow depth of field against a neutral backdrop, Hoppé pared down information in his photographs to allow his sitters’ individuality to shine through. Working at a time of transition in photography from soft-focus Pictorialism to hard-edged Modernism, he balanced the piercing gaze of the camera with a humanising softness, ensuring his sitters always looked their best.

Ezra Pound by E.O. Hoppé, 1918
© 2011 E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection/Curatorial Assistance Inc.

Ezra Pound by E.O. Hoppé, 1918
© 2011 E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection/Curatorial Assistance Inc.

Street

Like a well-cut gem London has a thousand facets and in all of them is a picture

E.O. Hoppé, The Image of London.

During the 1930s Hoppé increasingly went out in the streets looking for people to photograph. The results were often published in photo-stories featured in picture-led magazines, such as Weekly Illustrated. Fascinated by Britain’s growing cultural diversity, he travelled throughout London and beyond, photographing people of different ethnic origins and in a variety of occupations.

In the East End of London he befriended a Chinese shopkeeper named Wu Kang, who helped him gain access to local bars and restaurants. Nevertheless, he sometimes found it necessary to use a hidden camera – typically a Kodak Brownie wrapped in brown paper with a small hole cut for the lens. This enabled him to photograph British daily life with remarkable spontaneity, whether on public transit or inside the local pub.

Hoppé was born in Germany and educated in Austria and Paris, but considered Britain his home and infused his images with appreciation for the country. In his quest to capture national character, he explored many of the stereotypes of British life, from the love of animals to the rigours of the class system. Demonstrating an extraordinary eye for the eccentric and absurd, his street photographs betray a lively sense of humour and the genuine warmth he felt for his fellow citizens.

Sandwich board man advertising Shafi Hindustan Restaurant, 18 Gerrard Street, London
by E.O. Hoppé, 1945
© 2010 E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection / Curatorial Assistance Inc.

Sandwich board man advertising Shafi Hindustan Restaurant, 18 Gerrard Street, London
by E.O. Hoppé, 1945
© 2011 E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection / Curatorial Assistance Inc.

Type

I don’t suppose Leonardo da Vinci took more trouble with Mona Lisa than Mr. Hoppé did to get the confidence of Mrs Banks, of Brixton Hill

Daily Sketch

Hoppé’s fascination with personality and type culminated in the publication of two books: Taken from Life in 1922 and London Types in 1926. The portraits included in these volumes reflect his enduring interest in social types, recording the characteristics he saw as typical among people that he met on his excursions through London and the rest of the world.

While these portraits share the stylistic conventions set out by Hoppé’s studio work, they were usually cropped to head or bust-length only. Hoppé’s intention was to present these types not as individuals, but as representative of particular groups that he saw vanishing from society.

Flora, flower lady, Piccadilly Circus, London
by E.O. Hoppé, 1921
© 2010 E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection / Curatorial Assistance Inc.

Flora, flower lady, Piccadilly Circus, London by E.O. Hoppé, 1921
© 2011 E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection / Curatorial Assistance Inc.

Fair Women

Aristocrats and peasant girls side by side, in an array of enchantment based on twenty years search the whole world over

Boston Transcript

More than any other publication, The Book of Fair Women established Hoppé as a connoisseur of female beauty. Published in 1922, the collection of thirty-two portraits of women challenged accepted Western notions of beauty by featuring subjects from around the world and from a variety of racial and economic groups.

Some members of the international press were indignant at Hoppé’s assertion that women from other cultures could be as beautiful as Europeans. The suggestion that Hoppé was an arbiter of female beauty increased his fame and the book’s reputation far exceeded the number of copies sold.

Although Hoppé supported women’s suffrage, the book was published at a time of deep unrest among women’s rights campaigners and the book entered a highly charged atmosphere. He was at pains to explain that in his opinion, women can only be truly beautiful when given absolute freedom to pursue their interests.

Dutch West Indies
by E.O. Hoppé, 1921
© 2010 E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection / Curatorial Assistance Inc.

Dutch West Indies by E.O. Hoppé, 1921
© 2011 E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection / Curatorial Assistance Inc.