Fernand Fonssagrives, Lisa Fonssagrives, 1940s. Gelatin silver print. MEP Collection, Paris. Loan from the Archive of Tom Penn. © Estate of Fernand Fonssagrives
Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn – Fashion Icon
Feb 28 – May 26, 2024
Paris, France

Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn – Fashion Icon presents the personal collection of the greatest model of her time. Featuring almost 150 prints made between 1935 and 1955 by masters of photography such as Horst P. Horst, Irving Penn, Louise Dahl-Wolfe and Erwin Blumenfeld, the exhibition offers a glimpse into the golden age of fashion photography, magnified by an exceptional personality. Tom Penn, son of Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn and Irving Penn, proposed this exhibition project to the MEP. He has generously donated part of this remarkable collection to the MEP.

Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn (1911-1992), dancer, model, photographer, stylist and sculptor, is considered to be the first ‘supermodel’ in history. For 20 years, she was frequently featured in Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, appearing on around 200 covers of the leading fashion magazines of her time. In 1949, at the age of 38, she was at the height of her career, and appeared on the cover of Time magazine.

A much sought-after model, she collaborated with the greatest fashion photographers of the period: Fernand Fonssagrives, her first husband; Horst P. Horst, whose favourite model she was; George Hoyningen-Huene, George Platt Lynes, Erwin Blumenfeld, who famously photographed her hanging from the Eiffel Tower in a dress by Lucien Lelong; Louise Dahl- Wolfe, whose resolutely modern style suited Lisa perfectly; Irving Penn, whom she married in 1950, and who made her his partner in his greatest photographs, Richard Avedon, her friend Frances McLaughlin-Gill, the first woman photographer to be signed by Vogue; and many others, including Kathryn Abbe, James Abbe Jr., Gene Fenn, Otto Fenn, Toni Frissell, Harold Halma, Genevieve Naylor, John Rawlings and Lillian Bassman.

More than just a model, Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn contributed extensively to the creative process. Most of the photographs were taken in the studio and required long hours of preparation and a real connection between photographer and model.

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