Yousuf Karsh

Past display archive
15 January - 6 July 2008

Room 33


This display marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Yousuf Karsh, one of the most important portrait photographers of the twentieth century. Fascinated by 'greatness', Karsh photographed many eminent public figures, from world leaders to Hollywood stars, during a career that spanned seven decades. His glamorous professional life was in marked contrast to his early years as a refugee from civil unrest in his native Armenia. Sent to live with an uncle in Canada, Karsh became enamoured of his adopted country, and his uncle's profession as a photographer.

A career defining opportunity came in 1941 when Karsh photographed Winston Churchill. It became one of the most famous portrait photographs of the century, and established Karsh as the photographer of society's top-rank. Celebrities and statesmen alike asked to be 'Karshed', a term coined by the World War II hero, Field Marshal Montgomery. Karsh used pose and artificial lighting to imbue his sitters with a sense of timeless dignity, and to enhance their charismatic qualities. He also hoped that his portraits might reveal; 'the trace of the fierce competition characteristic of human affairs in our era; sometimes the gleam of arrogance'.

Winston Churchill
by Yousuf Karsh
NPG P490(16)

Dame Elizabeth Taylor
by Yousuf Karsh
NPG P254

Graham Greene
by Yousuf Karsh
NPG P490(37)

Queen Elizabeth II
by Yousuf Karsh
NPG P490(25)

George Bernard Shaw
by Yousuf Karsh
NPG P490(70)

Noël Coward
by Yousuf Karsh
NPG P245