Ida Kar: Bohemian Photographer

In 1960 Ida Kar became the first photographer to have a retrospective exhibition at a major London art gallery. Fifty years after her groundbreaking installation at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery presented a re-evaluation of the work of one of the key figures of twentieth-century portraiture.

Despite receiving public and critical acclaim from her contemporaries, Ida Kar remained surprisingly little known. This exhibition of over seventy of Kar’s portraits highlighted the significant role played by this woman photographer at the heart of the creative avant-garde.

Russian-born, of Armenian heritage, Ida Kar (1908–74) was instrumental in encouraging the acceptance of photography as a fine art. Her subjects were the most celebrated figures from the literary and artistic spheres of 1950s and 1960s Europe and Russia. They included artists such as Henry Moore, George Braque, Gino Severini and Bridget Riley and writers such as Iris Murdoch and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Taken in the environments in which they lived and worked, the photographs on display offered a fascinating insight into post-war cultural life. Comprising several iconic portraits and many never previously exhibited, the exhibition was drawn from the Ida Kar Archive, acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 1999.

    Ida Kar,    by Ida Kar,    late 1950s,    NPG x134503,    © National Portrait Gallery, London Ida Kar
by Ida Kar
2 1/4 inch square film negative, late 1950s
NPG x134503
© National Portrait Gallery, London