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Angus McBean as Neptune

© estate of Angus McBean / National Portrait Gallery, London

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Angus McBean as Neptune

by Angus McBean
bromide print, 1939
20 in. x 16 in. (507 mm x 404 mm)
Purchased, 2001
Primary Collection
NPG P932

Sitterback to top

  • Angus McBean (1904-1990), Photographer. Sitter in 79 portraits, Artist or producer associated with 276 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Angus McBean (1904-1990), Photographer. Artist or producer associated with 276 portraits, Sitter in 79 portraits.

This portraitback to top

In the days before digital manipulation, this 'paste-up' of different visual elements enabled the photographer Angus McBean to appear in the guise of Neptune, the classical god of the sea. After visiting the 1936 exhibition of Surrealist art in London, McBean was inspired to begin this type of experiment in photography. In the following years he often merged portraiture with masquerade, constructing elaborate sets in his studio within which to pose himself and his subjects. When applied to self-portraiture this was a way of exploring his own identity and a means of becoming someone or something else.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Pepper, Terence, Angus McBean Portraits, 2006 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 5 July to 22 October 2006), p. 115 Read entry

    McBean dominates the composition in this full-length Self-portrait as Neptune, God of the Sea. The original large paste-up, mounted on hardboard, makes a minimal use of collage and exists in the National Portrait Gallery's collection. This work also appears in the background in the shots of Diana Churchill, made in his studio for the 'How to Photograph A Beauty' article for Picture Post.

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1939back to top

Current affairs

Britain goes to war. The German invasion of Poland demonstrated that the policy of appeasement had failed. After refusing to meet Britain's ultimatum to withdraw troops, Britain and France declared war on Germany. The Second World War had begun.

Art and science

The Sutton Hoo burial ship is discovered. Apparently following a dream, Mrs Pretty invited the archaeologist Basil Brown to investigate a series of burial mounds on her estate on the banks of the river Deben in Suffolk. The excavation revealed an Anglo-Saxon burial, uncovering the most significant horde of early medieval artefacts found in Britain (now housed at the British Museum).

International

The Second World War begins. Germany's invasion of Poland prompted Britain and France to declare war forming the core of the Allied powers. As part of the Soviet-Nazi Pact, the Soviet Union joined the war on the German side, helping, with Italy, to form the Axis Powers. Poland was soon overpowered and the Baltic Republics and Finland were invaded by the Soviet Union.

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