Bill Brandt (British (born Germany), Hamburg 1904–1983 London)
Gelatin silver print
23 x 18.7 cm (9 1/16 x 7 3/8 in.)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005
Not on view
Bill Brandt's career, which spanned nearly sixty years, reveals two distinct phases. His work from 1928 until 1945 can be described as a kind of social documentation that delineated the sharp contrasts that existed among the many strata of British society. And the subject matter he took up after World War II, portraits of literary figures, landscapes, and studies of the nude, reflects the recurrent influence of Surrealism, to which he was exposed during his brief tenure as Man Ray's assistant in Paris in 1929. The son of a British father and a German mother, Hermann Wilhelm Brandt spent his childhood and early adult years primarily in Germany. Thus, when he settled in London in 1931, he was able to cast an objective, if not critical, eye on the customs of the society. The photographs in his first two publications, "The English at Home" (1936) and "A Night in London" (1938), suggest two important influences from his childhood years: Jugendstil poster design, with its stark graphic contrasts and silhouetted figures, and English nursery-book illustrations, with their characterizations of British types in the context of their social roles. Brandt attempted to re-create these roles in his early photographs, often enlisting members of his own family to pose for those scenarios that took place in upper-class milieus. In the image seen here, for example, which appears as plate 4 in "A Night in London," Brandt directed Pratt, a maidservant in the employ of his banker uncle, to draw a bath for "Madam," who is shown leaving for a party in plate 5.
Inscription: Titled and dated in ink, verso BC: "London // Parlour Maid", "(1932)"; artist's stamps in blue ink, verso C: "BILL BRANDT", "BILL BRANDT", "58 HILLFIELD COURT, // BELSIZE AVENUE // LONDON. NW 3"; numerous inscriptions in pencil in unknown hands related to printing, verso OA
Norman Hall Collection; [Marlborough Gallery, New York and London]; Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York, May 17, 1976
Norman Hall was the picture editor of the LONDON TIMES and PHOTOGRAPHY magazine, and a great supporter of Brandt's work.