Portraits of Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Walter Benjamin & Other Literary Legends by Gisèle Freund


Gisèle Fre­und, the Ger­man-born pho­tog­ra­ph­er who died in 2000 at 91, is both famous and not famous enough,” writes Kather­ine Knorr in the New York Times. “She was some­times cha­grined to be best known for some of her por­traits,” whose lumi­nary sub­jects includ­ed artists, film stars, and writ­ers. At the top, we have Fre­und’s 1938 shot of James Joyce with his grand­son in Paris. Just below, her pho­to­graph of a pen­sive Wal­ter Ben­jamin from that same year. At the bot­tom, her 1939 por­trait of a smok­ing Vir­ginia Woolf. (French nov­el­ist, the­o­rist and, Min­is­ter for Cul­tur­al Affairs André Mal­raux also sport­ed a cig­a­rette in his 1935 por­trait by Fre­und, an image which made it to a postage stamp in 1996, though with his smoke care­ful­ly removed.) For­mer Pres­i­dent Jacques Chirac pub­licly praised Fre­und’s abil­i­ty to “reveal the essence of beings through their expres­sions.” In Woolf’s case, Fre­und pro­duced the being in ques­tion’s first-ever col­or por­trait.


“[Fre­und] was an ear­ly adapter to col­or, in 1938, and her first exhi­bi­tion was in fact a pro­jec­tion of col­or por­traits giv­en in Monnier’s book shop,” Knorr writes. She goes on to describe anoth­er exhi­bi­tion, in 2011, that “sim­i­lar­ly projects the por­traits with­in its mock book­shop, turn­ing the show into a guess­ing game since some of those pho­tographed have enor­mous­ly famous faces,” while oth­ers “are a lot of French intel­lec­tu­als that most young French peo­ple today would not rec­og­nize.” While we nat­u­ral­ly assume that you, as an Open Cul­ture read­er, rec­og­nize a fair few more French intel­lec­tu­als than the aver­age gallery-goer, we can’t help but focus on the fact that so many of the writ­ers of whom Fre­und’s eye saw the defin­i­tive images — not just Joyce, Ben­jamin, and Woolf, but Beck­ett, Eliot, Hesse, the list goes on — became the defin­ing writ­ers of their era. Fre­und her­self had just one ques­tion: “Explain to me why writ­ers want to be pho­tographed like stars,” she wrote, “and the lat­ter like writ­ers.”

Images by Fre­und have been col­lect­ed in the book, Gisèle Fre­und: Pho­tographs & Mem­oirs. You can also vis­it the Fre­und web­site to view a col­lec­tion of por­traits.


via A Piece of Mono­logue

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Philoso­pher Por­traits: Famous Philoso­phers Paint­ed in the Style of Influ­en­tial Artists

A‑List Authors, Artists & Thinkers Draw Self Por­traits

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les PrimerFol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.