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Noël Coward

© Horst

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Noël Coward

by Horst P. Horst
platinum palladium print, 1933
17 7/8 in. x 13 7/8 in. (454 mm x 354 mm)
Given by the photographer, Horst P. Horst, 1989
Primary Collection
NPG P419

Sitterback to top

  • Sir Noël Coward (1899-1973), Actor, playwright and composer. Sitter associated with 117 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Horst P. Horst (1906-1999), Photographer. Artist of 20 portraits, Sitter in 1 portrait.

This portraitback to top

Increasingly drawn to the more liberal United States, Coward's svelte ménage à trois drama, Design For Living opened on Broadway in 1933; in the art-house film, The Scoundrel (1935), he assumed the stance of a highly-groomed matinée idol. In Britain, his revue Words and Music (1932) introduced the song for which Coward will always be remembered, 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen'.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Rogers, Malcolm, Camera Portraits, 1989 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 1989 - 21 January 1990), p. 219 Read entry

    Noel Coward, 'the Master', was in every sense a man of the professional theatre, an actor, playwright, lyricist, composer and producer, who began his career aged twelve, playing Prince Mussel in The Goldfish, as one of a 'star cast of wonder children'. In 1924 The Vortex, his controversial play about drug addiction, took London and New York by storm. There followed a string of successes - Hay Fever (1925), This Year of Grace (1928), Bitter Sweet (1929) and Private Lives (1933) - which established Coward as, in Arnold Bennett's phrase, 'the Congreve of our day'. As a song-writer he could be touching and witty by turns, equally at home with the sentiments of 'I'll see you again' as with 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen'. As a performer, whether of the spoken word or song, on the stage, in cabaret, or, latterly, on television, his trademarks were staccato speech, perfect diction and timing, and a brittle wit.

    The American photographer Horst was born in Germany; he studied architecture in Hamburg, and with Le Corbusier in Paris. As a photographer he was the protégé of Hoyningen-Huene in the Vogue studios in Paris (1932-5), and since 1935 has worked with Vogue in New York. Between 1952 and 1970 the Horst Studio was on East 55th Street. He is known above all as a fashion photographer, but during the 1930s produced a series of portraits, which are distinguished, like Coward himself, for their perfectionist pursuit of style. Horst first met Coward in Paris on a summer morning in 1935, after an all-night session at Vogue:

    We talked and sat and had a drink, and I asked if I could photograph him (it was the time of Private Lives). The next day he came to the studio, immaculately dressed. I started to photograph him and had to tell him, 'Don't pose so much. Look at me'. Actors! Theater people always know what the best angle is and I wanted to get him out of that.

    The next year he photographed Coward again, this time in New York with Gertrude Lawrence, on the set of Coward's Tonight at 8.30.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 148

Subjects & Themesback to top

Events of 1933back to top

Current affairs

Sir Norman Angell is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Angell was recognised for his book, Europe's Optical Illusion (or The Great Illusion) first published in 1910 and updated in 1933, which argued that war between modern powers was futile as neither the looser or victor would gain economically from it.

Art and science

British Art embraces abstraction with the establishment of 'Unit 1', the first group of British Artists dedicated to producing abstract art. The critic Herbert Read formed the group by bringing together the artists Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Paul Nash and the architect, Wells Coates.
The Duveen Wing extension at the National Portrait Gallery is opened by King George V.


The Nazi party comes to power in Germany as part of a coalition government with Hitler as Chancellor. Over the next year, the party consolidated its position through the Enabling Act (allowing them to pass legislation without the support of the coalition), by banning and purging opposition, and by making Hitler Führer in 1934: granting him the combined powers of Chancellor and President.

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