January 3, 2018

Adolf de Meyer Photographs @ The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Quicksilver Brilliance: 
Adolf de Meyer Photographs
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Through March 18, 2018


Adolf de Meyer, Josephine Baker
Adolf de Meyer, American (born France), 1868–1946
Josephine Baker, 1925–26
Gum bichromate over platinum print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ford Motor Company Collection, 
Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987 (1987.1100.16)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

A member of the “international set” in fin-de-siècle Europe, Baron Adolf de Meyer (1868–1946) was also a pioneering art, portrait, and fashion photographer, known for creating images that transformed reality into a beautiful fantasy. The “quicksilver brilliance” that characterized de Meyer’s art led fellow photographer Cecil Beaton to dub him the “Debussy of the Camera.” 

Quicksilver Brilliance: Adolf de Meyer Photographs is the first museum exhibition devoted to the artist in more than 20 years and the first ever at The Met. Some 40 works, drawn entirely from The Met collection, will reveal the impressive breadth of his career.

Adolf de Meyer
Adolf de Meyer, American (born France), 1868–1946
Etienne de Beaumont, ca. 1923
Gelatin silver print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Paul F. Walter, 2009 
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Adolf de Meyer
Adolf de Meyer, American (born France), 1868–1946
The Shadows on the Wall. “Crysanthemums,” ca. 1906
Platinum print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 
Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1933 (33.43.231)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The exhibition includes dazzling portraits of well-known figures of his time: the American socialite Rita de Acosta Lydig; art patron and designer Count Étienne de Beaumont; aristocrat and society hostess Lady Ottoline Morrell; and celebrated entertainer Josephine Baker, among others. A highlight of the presentation is an exceptional book—one of only seven known copies—documenting Nijinsky’s scandalous 1912 ballet L’Après-Midi d’un Faune. This rare album represents de Meyer’s great success in capturing the choreography of dance, a breakthrough in the history of photography. Also on view are the artist’s early snapshots made in Japan, experiments with color processes, and inventive fashion photographs.

Born in Paris and educated in Germany, de Adolf de Meyer was of obscure aristocratic German-Jewish and Scottish ancestry. He and his wife, Olga Caracciolo, goddaughter of Edward VII, were at the center of London’s café society.


Adolf de Meyer
Adolf de Meyer, American (born France), 1868–1946
Rita de Acosta Lydig, ca. 1917
Platinum print
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 
Gift of Mercedes de Acosta, 1952 (68.615)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Adolf de Meyer
Adolf de Meyer, American (born France), 1868–1946
Plate from Le Prelude à l’Après-Midi d’un Faune, 1914
Collotype
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection, 
Museum Purchase, 2005 (2005.100.1299)
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

After starting in photography as an amateur, Adolf de Meyer gained recognition as a leading figure of Pictorialism and a member of the photographic society known as the Linked Ring Brotherhood in London. Alfred Stieglitz exhibited de Meyer’s work in his Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession and published his images as photogravures in his influential journal Camera Work. At the outbreak of World War I, Adolf de Meyer settled in the United States and applied his distinctive pictorial style to fashion imagery, helping to define the genre during the interwar period.

The exhibition was organized by Beth Saunders, Assistant Curator in The Met’s Department of Photographs.

THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, NEW YORK
Exhibition Location:
The Met Fifth Avenue, Floor 2,
The Howard Gilman Gallery, Gallery 852
www.metmuseum.org

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