Courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery and Pace MacGill Gallery
“Scherzo di Follia, 1863-66,” by Pierre-Louis Pierson, was one of the last photographs acquired by Richard Avedon for his collection before he died in 2004. Selections from the collection will be shown for two weeks at Pace MacGill Gallery in New York starting Wednesday and at San Francisco’s Fraenkel Gallery starting Oct. 5, after which the collection will be sold to benefit the Avedon Foundation.
Philip Gefter writes in the New York Times -- "In Portraits by Others, a Look That Caught Avedon’s Eye" -- about Avedon’s collection and what it reveals about the art and artifice of Avedon’s own photographic imagination. The collection included works by modern photographers like Diane Arbus, Peter Hujar, and Irving Penn, among others, as well as earlier works by photographers that included Nadar, Julia Margaret Cameron, August Sander, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, as well as works by Pierson.
Not long before he died, Avedon bought 18 photographs of the Countess de Castiglione, mistress to Napoleon III, by Pierre-Louis Pierson, considered the most important collection of this series in private hands. Among them is one of the most famous portraits in the history of photography: “Scherzo di Follia, 1863-66” (“Game of Madness”). The Metropolitan Museum of Art owns a later print, but Avedon’s is one of only two known early prints.All I know is, if we can’t get to New York before the show closes there, it’s off to San Francisco, for sure.
The Countess de Castiglione collaborated with Pierson to construct her many guises in the photographs, with wit, flair and a nod to the artifice of the creation, the same thing Avedon had done in his early fashion tableaus. In both his fashion work and his portraiture, Avedon explored the form of photography as much as the subject of his photographs.
“When I was a boy, my family took great care with our snapshots,” he wrote in “Richard Avedon: Portraits.” “We really planned them. We made compositions. We dressed up. We posed in front of expensive cars, homes that weren’t ours. We borrowed dogs. All the photographs in our family album were built on some kind of lie about who we were, and revealed a truth about who we wanted to be.”