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Christopher Isherwood; W.H. Auden

© estate of Louise Dahl-Wolfe / Courtesy Staley-Wise Gallery, New York

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Christopher Isherwood; W.H. Auden

by Louise Dahl-Wolfe
toned bromide print, July 1938
9 7/8 in. x 8 1/8 in. (250 mm x 206 mm)
Given by the Britten estate, 1981
Photographs Collection
NPG x15194

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Isherwood and Auden first met at preparatory school in Surrey. After a brief romantic relationship, the two became lifelong friends and literary collaborators. They travelled together to China to report on the Sino-Japanese war, and jointly produced the prose and verse book Journey to War (1939). They returned from China by way of America, and it was during this visit that they were both photographed in Central Park by pioneering fashion photographer, and Harper’s Bazaar contributor, Louise Dahl-Wolfe. A year later, both writers moved to New York. Isherwood published his novel Goodbye to Berlin (1937), with its famous opening line ‘I am a camera,’ just prior to their voyage.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 114
  • Rogers, Malcolm, Camera Portraits, 1989 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 1989 - 21 January 1990), p. 231 Read entry

    Christopher Isherwood and W. H. Auden first met at preparatory school in Surrey, and became lifelong friends, literary collaborators, and, as Stephen Spender writes, 'intermittently' lovers. In 1937 Auden was in Spain, where he had volunteered to drive an ambulance for the Republican side in the civil war, but in the following year from January to July he and Isherwood travelled together in China to report on the Sino-Japanese war. Jointly they produced Journey to a War (1939) in which their sympathy for the occupied Chinese is fully expressed both in prose and in some of Auden's greatest poetry. The two returned from China by way of America, and this detour changed their lives, for it was then that they decided to leave England and live in America.

    It was on that visit, in the summer of 1938, the year before their removal to New York and the publication of Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin, that they were photographed in Central Park by the American photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe. Though she is best known for her fashion photography which rivals that of Beaton, Horst or Avedon, she has also produced a significant body of portraiture, and has written:

    It is easy to learn the technique of the camera by oneself, but by working in design I learned the principles of good design and composition. Drawing from the nudes in life class made me aware of the grace and flow of line, body movements, and the differences in the way a male poses from that of a female.

    This print belonged to the composer Benjamin Britten.

  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 211 Read entry

    Christopher Isherwood and W. H. Auden first met at St Edmund’s preparatory school in Surrey and, after being reintroduced in London in late 1925, became lifelong friends, literary collaborators and, intermittently, lovers. This portrait was taken for Harper’s Bazaar in New York’s Central Park by American fashion and portrait photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe (1895–1989), who worked for the magazine from 1936 to 1958. Auden and Isherwood spent two weeks in the city in July 1938 on their return from their visit to China and Japan, which resulted in their travel book about the Sino-Japanese War, Journey to a War (1939). Exhilarated by America, Auden and Isherwood returned in January 1939, and became American citizens in 1946.

    This print belonged to the composer Benjamin Britten, with whom Auden had become close friends in 1935 when they were both working for the General Post Office Film Unit, producing documentary films on social themes, such as Coal Face (1935) and Night Mail (1936). Britten also collaborated with Auden and Isherwood in Rupert Doone’s experimental Group Theatre, writing the music for their dramas The Ascent of F6 (1936) and On The Frontier (1938).

Placesback to top

  • Place made and portrayed: United States (Central Park, New York, United States)

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Events of 1938back to top

Current affairs

Britain pursues its policy of appeasement. At the Munich Agreement, Britain, France and Italy agreed to allow Hitler to seize the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia. The agreement was seen at the time as a triumph for peace, with Neville Chamberlain returning home brandishing the paper agreement and saying 'peace for our time.' Within six months Germany had occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia.

Art and science

Graham Greene publishes Brighton Rock. The novel follows the descent of Pinky, a teenage gang leader in Brighton's criminal underworld. The book examines the criminal mind and explores the themes of morality and sin - recurrent concerns for the Roman Catholic Author.
Glasgow hosts the Empire Exhibition; an £11 million celebration of the British Empire visited by 13 million people.


In its pursuit of 'Lebensraum' (living space), Germany annexes Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia with little opposition from the League of Nations. At home, the Nazis continued their escalating persecution of the Jews with 'Kristallnach' (the Night of Broken Glass), attacking Jewish homes, shops, businesses and synagogues, and taking Jewish men to concentration camps.

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