Bill Brandt: Portraits 1982

Past display archive
20 March - 5 September 2004

Balcony Gallery


To celebrate the centenary of his birth, this display was the first chance in twenty years to see a remarkable collection of great photographic portraits by legendary photographer Bill Brandt (1904 - 1983). This display complemented the major exhibition being mounted by the Victoria and Albert Museum - Bill Brandt: A Centenary Retrospective (24 March -25 July 2004).

Selected from over 112 works by Brandt in the National Portrait Gallery collection, this display brought together 40 photographs, including a number of rare vintage prints from the 1940s ranging from Cecil Day-Lewis and T.S. Eliot to John Piper and Augustus John. From the 1950s and 60s came Brandt's memorable portraits of Peter Sellers, René Magritte and Harold Pinter. The 1970s and 80s were represented by his portraits of Martin Amis, Ted Hughes, David Hockney, Glenda Jackson and Bridget Riley.

Bill Brandt and Cecil Beaton (1904-80) were contemporaries and photographed each other. They had a number of sitters in common, and this display of Brandt's portraits coincides with the Gallery's major exhibition Cecil Beaton: Portraits (5 February - 31 May 2004).

Hermann Wilhelm Brandt, born into an Anglo-German family in Hamburg, was a schoolboy in Germany during the First World War and learnt photography in a Viennese studio in the 1920s. He also spent a brief time with Man Ray in Paris before settling in London in the 1930s. Taking hard-edged documentary photographs during the Depression for Picture Post and Weekly Illustrated helped establish his reputation, as did his first books The English at Home (1936) and A Night in London (1938). The former contains his classic pictures of a day in the life of a domestic servant, published in Picture Post and recently included in the Gallery's Below Stairs exhibition.

However, it was Brandt's commissions from the magazine Lilliput that first established him as a portraitist of note, specialising in writers and artists. The first portfolio, Young Poets of Democracy, was accompanied by text by Stephen Spender and included studies of Dylan Thomas, Cecil Day-Lewis, William Empson and Robert Graves. Other series focused on composers, film directors and novelists whilst Brandt's work also appeared regularly in Harper's Bazaar.