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Exhibitions/ Art Object

Jean Harlow

William Mortensen (American, 1897–1965)
Gelatin silver print
18.2 x 14.3 cm (7 3/16 x 5 5/8 in.)
Credit Line:
Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
Accession Number:
Not on view
By the time this photograph was made in the 1920s, Pictorialism--with its fuzzy contours and overt print manipulation--had fallen out of favor among avant-garde photographers, who insisted instead on "straight photography" as the purest expression of their medium. Mortensen, rejected by modernists as hopelessly retrograde, steadfastly practiced pictorialist techniques for the duration of his career, maintaining Steichen's position of twenty years earlier--that frank artifice in photographs was key to their success as works of art.
In this portrait of Jean Harlow, the starlet lolls in a timeless sphere of softened forms and abstracted space. For the Hollywood portrait, at least, Mortensen's idealizing approach had mass appeal.
[Daniel Wolf, New York]; John C. Waddell, New York, Feb. 23, 1980.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Johnson Gallery, Selections from the Collection 26," May 15, 2000–September 18, 2000.

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