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Yoko Ono; John Lennon

Yoko Ono; John Lennon, by Annie Leibovitz, 1980 - NPG P628 - © Annie Leibovitz

© Annie Leibovitz

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Yoko Ono; John Lennon

by Annie Leibovitz
C-type colour print, 1980
12 7/8 in. x 12 7/8 in. (327 mm x 327 mm)
Given by the photographer, Annie Leibovitz, 1995
Primary Collection
NPG P628

Sittersback to top

  • John Lennon (1940-1980), Musician; co-founder and singer for The Beatles. Sitter in 74 portraits, Artist of 2 portraits.
  • Yoko Ono (1933-), Artist; second wife of John Lennon. Sitter in 14 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Annie Leibovitz (1949-), Photographer. Artist of 14 portraits, Sitter in 2 portraits.

This portraitback to top

The musician John Lennon and the performance artist Yoko Ono married in 1969. It was one of the most talked about relationships of the time, not least because many fans of the Beatles blamed Yoko for the break up of the band. John was defensive about the intensity of their love, writing in the lyrics to 'God' (1970): 'I just believe in me, Yoko and me, and that's reality'. In 1980, the magazine Rolling Stone commissioned this portrait. This celebrated photograph, taken by Annie Leibovitz in the couple's Manhattan apartment, suggests more than just two lovers. Its poignancy is in Lennon's nakedness and the vulnerability of his foetal curl as he plants a tender kiss on Yoko's cheek. Five hours later, Lennon had been shot dead by a fan.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Cooper, John, Great Britons: The Great Debate, 2002, p. 147 Read entry

    John used to call her 'Mother'; much of the love she gave him was maternal, protective and disciplinary, giving him the confidence and direction to be fully himself and stretch his artistic boundaries. This photograph celebrates his vulnerability and dependence, and immortalises their enduring love as a couple, and the integrity of their aesthetic and political activities. But within hours of the photograph being taken, John Lennon was murdered. Distributed around the world as a Rolling Stone magazine cover, the image was instantly transformed. It became a memorial to Lennon and a profound emblem of the fragility of human passion.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 376
  • Schama, Simon, The Face of Britain: The Nation Through its Portraits, 2015-09-15, p. 237
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 240 Read entry

    John Lennon first met Yoko Ono after The Beatles’ final tour in 1966, at her exhibition at the Indica Gallery, London. They married in Gibraltar in 1969. As a couple, they promoted peace, feminism and racial harmony and their activism against prejudice included staging a ‘Bed-In’ for peace in Amsterdam, and later Montreal, where they recorded the single ‘Give Peace a Chance’. Their son, Sean Ono Lennon, was born in 1975. The last of her Lennon pictures made over thirteen years, this image was taken by Annie Leibovitz (b.1949) at the couple’s New York flat, a few hours before Lennon was murdered. In her publication Annie Leibovitz Photographs (1983), Leibovitz recalled, in conversation with her interviewer David Felton: ‘I really felt that what was so phenomenal of their time together was that they were still together … I thought of the embrace, them lying naked together, and the embrace is based on something from my life, the way I used to sleep with someone, a very relaxed position. So I had sketches made of them lying exactly like that and I tried it on them.’ This iconic image was later published on the cover of the magazine Rolling Stone (22 January 1981).

Placesback to top

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1980back to top

Current affairs

Margaret Thatcher makes one of her most famous speeches, living up to her nickname of 'the Iron Lady'. The speech was given to the Conservative Party conference in Brighton in response to the media speculation that the party would go back on its counter-inflationary policies: 'The lady's not for turning!'

Art and science

John Lennon is murdered on the steps of his house. After fatally shooting him, Mark David Chapman calmly sat down on the pavement and waited to be arrested by police. Chapman had a history of mental illness and claimed that he had committed the murder as a way of getting attention.

International

Iraq invades Iran, beginning eight years of conflict. The invasion followed years of border disputes, but was precipitated by the 1979 revolution in Iran and the resulting instability which Saddam Hussein saw as an opportunity to expand Iraqi influence in the region. Despite early gains for Iraq, the conflict soon descended into a war of attrition with huge causalities caused by Iraq's use of chemical weapons.

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