Bill Brandt: Known and Unknown

New York

15 March — 5 May 2001

Paris, 1929

Barcelona, 1932

Barcelona, 1932

Barcelona, 1932

Hungary, 1933

Hungary, 1933

Hungary, 1933

Hungary, 1933

Hungary, 1933

Paris, 1929

Races, Paris, 1931

At the Races, Paris, 1931

Paris, 1931

Le Chateau de Chantilly, 1931

Apres Midi au Bois de Boulogne, Paris, 1931

Vienna, 1933

Gypsies, Spain, 1932

Barcelona, 1932

Westminster, 1946

After the Celebration, London, 1934

London Bridge, 1939

Rainswept Roofs, South London, 1933

Rainswept Roofs, South London, 1933

Ascot, 1935

London, 1930's

Blackout in Bloomsbury, March 1942

Brighton Beach, 1936

Circus Boyhood, 1932

Eton, c. 1935

Garden Party, 1936

Garden Party, 1936

Parlourmaid and Underparlourmaid Ready to Serve Dinner, Mayfair, 1936

Peace Time Cricket, 1936

Parlourmaid Serving Tea, Mayfair, 1936

Bermondsey Night, May 1937

Backyard in Sheffield Slums, 1937

Street in Bethnel Green, 1939

Bedroom in West Ham, c. 1939

East End, 1937

At Charlie Brown's, 1945

London Barmaid, Stepney, c. 1939

East Durham, c. 1937

Country Durham, c. 1937

Country Durham, c. 1937

New Castle, 1937

A Snicket in Halifax, 1937

Isle of Skye, 1947

Isle of Skye, 1947

Yorkshire, 1944

Yorkshire Moors

Stonehenge Under Snow, 1947

In Haworth Parsonage

Jean Dubuffet, 1963

Jean Arp, 1963

Rene Magritte, 1966

Dylan Thomas, 1941

Edith and Osbert Sitwell, 1945

E.M. Foster, Kings College, Cambridge, 1947

Robert Graves, 1941

Graham Greene, 1948

London, 1930's

Nude, 1929

Hampstead, London, 1945

Nude, c. 1945-47

Nude, 1940's

April, 1950

Baie des Anges, France, 1958

Belgravia, London, 1951

Belgravia, London, 1953

Belgravia, London, February, 1958

Nude, c. 1950

Nude, c. 1956

Campden Hill, London, 1952

Campden Hill, 1950's

Campden Hill, London, 1951

Campden Hill, London, 1955-79

London, 1958

December, 1955

East Sussex Coast, 1959

East Sussex Coast, 1958

Portrait of a Young Girl, Easton Place, London, 1955

Hampstead, London, 1953

London, 1953

London, 1954

London, 1955

London, 1956

London, 1956

Nude, 1957

Nude, c. 1950

St. John's Wood, 1950's

Taxo d'Aval, France, 1957

Vastiveral, Normandy, 1957

Press Release

Bill Brandt created a unique body of work, ranging from stark photojournalism and moody landscapes, to bold portraits and highly abstract nudes. Welding together the two dominant currents of modernist photography, the documentary and the surreal, Brandt developed his own intensely expressive style.

Brandt (British, b. Germany 1904-83) began his career in Paris in 1929 when he trained as Man Ray’s assistant. In 1931 he settled in London to work on his first important project, the production of the classic book The English at Home. In it, Brandt recorded the marked contrasts underlying British society, with its sharp separation between the worlds of the “upstairs” and “downstairs”, of high society and of the working class. This first publication was followed in 1936 by A Night in London, an exploration of the city’s darker aspects inspired by Paris de nuit, the work of Brandt’s good friend Brassaï. Throughout the 1930s and early 1940s, Brandt established his reputation as a photojournalist, working steadily for The Weekly Illustrated, Liliput, and Picture Post. Brandt’s chronicles of industrial towns hit by economic hardship in the north of England, and of London in the time of the Blitz, are classics examples of documentary photography.

In the post-war period, Brandt’s work underwent a dramatic shift in focus. As Brandt himself explained it he “gradually lost his enthusiasm for reportage”, finding that his “main theme of the past few years had disappeared; England was no longer a country of marked social contrast.” Brandt then turned to nudes, portraits and landscapes.

Although not always understood at the time, Brandt’s series of nudes are considered today as his most innovative work. With their dramatic use of the contrasting values of black and white, and with their exploration of optical deformations, the nudes read as daring studies in abstractions, reminiscent of Henry Moore’s sculptures. At the same time, Brandt developed the symbolist potential of photography in a series of landscapes infused with the spirit of Romanticism and directly inspired by the writings of poets and novelists such as Emily Brontë.

Himself an important figure of the British artistic and intellectual scene, Brandt produced striking portraits of celebrated contemporaries, such as Francis Bacon, E.M. Forster, Dylan Thomas and Henry Moore.

In 1969, New York’s Museum of Modern Art honored Brandt with a first retrospective of his work. Several solo shows followed at both museums and galleries in Europe and the United States. In 1981, two years before Brandt’s death, the Royal Photographic Society inaugurated its National Centre of Photography in Bath with a retrospective. In 1999, the International Center of Photography (New York) presented a retrospective of rare vintage prints. This was accompanied by the publication of the comprehensive monograph Brandt: The Photography of Bill Brandt.