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irving penn sits in good company with Kate Moss and Picasso at the palazzo grassi

i-D Fashion Editor Jack Borkett goes on a pilgrimage to Venice to explore forty years of Irving Penn's photography, from Vogue to tradesmen to lion's skulls.

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There are a few places I have always wanted to go. Perhaps it was my parent's early screenings of the movie Don’t Look Now, starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as a couple on the edge in the foggy streets of Venice, or maybe it's the magical idea of a city built on canals… either way, Venice has always been top of my list.

Luckily for me there were no murders when I arrived to visit the opening of the Irving Penn’s Resonance exhibition at the Palazzo Grassi. Having always been a fan of the American photographer's work, the atmosphere was more damp than usual (in a good way of course).

Curated by Pierre Apraxine and Matthieu Humery, 130 photographs taken between the end of the 40s and the mid 80s have been brought together in one space. It is the first time the Palazzo Grassi-Punta della Dogana-Francois Pinault Foundation has presented a collection solely consisting of photographs. In fact this is the first exhibition dedicated entirely to Penn in the whole of Italy. I suppose the gallery is demonstrating it’s commitment to the medium; 82 platinum prints, 29 gelatin silver prints, 5 colourful dye transfer prints and 17 inter-negatives are all available to the public for the first time.

A large selection of images are from his Small Trades series and capture the tradesmen Penn thought were close to extinction. This whole body of work is a great study of uniform and work wear and an amazing insight in to the portraiture of the 50s. 

The exhibition then moves to portraits taken between the 50s and 70s of celebrities from the worlds of art, cinema and literature. Our very own Kate Moss sits in good company alongside Picasso, Truman Capote and Marlene Dietrich.

These are perhaps amongst the most iconic and most recognisable photographic images of the twentieth century. Regardless of whether they’re a fashion image from Vogue or documentation of tribes, it was really Irving Penn that brought fashion and art together: whether affluent or poor, fiction or fantasy, famous or unknown. The incredible setting of the Palazzo Grassi and Venice itself only adds to the prestige and significance of this very special collection. A questioning of time, of life and its fragility. A must see. 


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