Norman Parkinson: Always in Style - McCord Stewart Museum

Photography Exhibition

From April 19 to September 2, 2024

Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993), photographed at La Vigna, Hepburn's villa outside Rome, Glamour, December 1955 © Iconic Images / The Norman Parkinson Archive 2024

Norman Parkinson: Always in Style

A North American Premiere

Known as one of the pillars of 20th-century fashion photography, Norman Parkinson dazzles the world from the 1930s to the 1980s with his sparkling inventiveness. He gives new impetus to celebrity portraiture, photographing the most prominent artists and celebrities, including Audrey Hepburn, Jerry Hall, David Bowie, the Rolling Stones and Jane BirkinHis long association with Vogue and extensive work for Harper’s Bazaar, Queen, Town & Country and other international magazines earn him worldwide recognition.

Celebrated for the liveliness, spontaneity and humour of his photographs, as well as for his use of outdoor locations around the globe, the British photographer helped change the static, posed approach to fashion photography with his impulsive, imaginative style. 

The exhibition features 79 of Norman Parkinson’s best-known images, as well as recent discoveries from his remarkable photographic portfolio and a selection of 30 covers of major magazines shot between the 1950s and 1970s. Several magnificent pieces from the McCord Stewart Museum’s Dress, Fashion and Textiles collection are also on display: 10 high-end dresses and ensembles made between the 1930s and the 1970s by French designers Christian Dior, Jacques Griffe, Jean Patou, Louis Féraud and Guy Laroche, Italian André Laug and British designers Digby Morton and Hardy Amies, plus four creations by Quebec milliners Fanny Graddon and Yvette Brillon.

  • Norman Parkinson and Nena von Schlebrügge, <em>Queen</em> (cover), 16 February 1960  © Iconic Images / The Norman Parkinson Archive 2024
  • Young Velvets, Young Prices, Hat Fashions, <em>American Vogue</em>, October 1949  © Iconic Images / The Norman Parkinson Archive 2024
  • Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993), photographed at La Vigna, Hepburn's villa outside Rome, <em>Glamour</em>, December 1955  © Iconic Images / The Norman Parkinson Archive 2024

The exhibition, shown at the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Centro Cultural de Cascais in Portugal, is curated by Terence Pepper OBE and co-curated by Iconic Images.

5 things to know

Stepping out of studios... and conventions

Norman Parkinson made a name for himself early in his career with his unconventional style. Favouring the outdoors rather than the constrained, formal environment of a photo studio, he set his models in motion in sumptuous, often exotic, settings. The 1939 photograph of model Pamela Minchin, captured mid-air in a Fortnum & Mason swimsuit on the Isle of Wight (England) for Harper’s Bazaar, illustrates this interest in spontaneity.

He said of this image: “When I pulled that picture out of the soup it confirmed to me for the rest of my life that I had to be a photographer. I was absolutely amazed by the magic of it.”

  • Pamela Minchin, <i>Harper’s Bazaar</i>, July 1939 © Iconic Images / The Norman Parkinson Archive 2024

Dreaming in colour

One of the first fashion photographers to incorporate colour into his practice, a major revolution in the fashion and advertising industry at the time, he said: “I dream in colour … when you dream in colour … one must photograph in colour.”

  • Raquel Welch, American <i>Vogue</i>, 1967 © Iconic Images / The Norman Parkinson Archive 2024

30 covers for Vogue magazine

Norman Parkinson shot 30 Vogue covers, including the first one in 1949 featuring his muse and wife Wenda Parkinson, who became one of the period’s top models. The dynamic style of the photographer attracted the attention of the most celebrated fashion magazines, including Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue (British and American), Town & Country, Queen and Vanity Fair, earning him international recognition.

  • Wenda Parkinson, Hyde Park Corner, British <i>Vogue</i>, February 1951 © Iconic Images / The Norman Parkinson Archive 2024

6 decades of creativity and hundreds of photographs

Much of Norman Parkinson’s enduring success is attributed to his ability to reinvent his style over trends and decades, and to maintain his reputation despite the emergence of new generations of young photographers and models. Over the course of six decades, many hundreds of photographs by Parkinson have been published in top fashion magazines.

In the 1980s, Parkinson is awarded the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. He photographs the royal family in both public and private settings, and creates a series of portraits for a retrospective organized by London’s National Portrait Gallery.

From famous models to some of the most influential actors and actresses of their generation, not to mention the crowned heads of Europe, Norman Parkinson immortalized many of the 20th century’s biggest celebrities. He died in February 1990 in Singapore (he was shooting on location in Malaysia when he collapsed).

Professional pseudonym

Ronald William Parkinson Smith was born on 21 April 1913 in London. He attended Westminster School where he developed an interest in art. Following his formal education, Parkinson undertook an apprenticeship with photographer Richard N Speaight in London, where he mastered the techniques of photography. In 1934, he opened his own studio on Dover Street opposite the Ritz Hotel with another young photographer named Norman Kibblewhite. They combined names to create a professional pseudonym and, though the partnership with Kibblewhite did not last long, Parkinson decided to keep the name.

Not to be missed!

An Iconic Images/Norman Parkinson Archive 2024 exhibition in association with Terra Esplêndida and the McCord Stewart Museum
The exhibition at the McCord Stewart Museum is presented by Holt Renfrew Ogilvy
Thanks to our partners
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Not to be missed!