Blumenfeld glamour at Somerset House

As a home to London Fashion Week it’s no surprise really that Somerset House hosts some of the most glamourous exhibitions in London. The last few months have been some fine examples, Tim Walker, Valentino and now Erwin Blumenfeld. I’ll admit I wasn’t sure I recognised the name at the centre of the latest exhibition at all, but I definitely felt that I’d seen some of his work before. Described as one of the most “internationally sought-after portrait and fashion photographers in the 1940s and 1950s”, I was sure it would be a worth a visit and a slot in a quiet Saturday afternoon over the bank holiday weekend.

It’s also a great excuse to enjoy Somerset House’s splendour. The return of its courtyard fountain does add to the relaxed gentle atmosphere, quite a contrast to the buzz of nearby Covent Garden.


I entered the East wing where you’ll find the exhibition until 1 September 2013. I was fairly surprised (but very pleased) that as it only opened on 21 May it was pretty quiet. This meant I could explore at ease, spending as much time as I wanted reading and absorbing Blumenfeld’s glamourous photography.

Born in 1897, Blumenfeld peaked later on in his career as a photographer and this exhibition shows a large collection of his work between 1941 and 1960. In his most successful years he shot images for fashion magazines, Harpers Bazaar and Vogue, captured Hollywood actresses and created fashion icons. You’ll find a mixture of all his best pieces, many never seen before.

The vintage Vogue covers were definitely a highlight for me.


But I did love the shots of Hollywood and fashion icons. This picture of Grace Kelly for Cosmopolitan in 1955 was probably the most familiar image to me.


©The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld. Image source:

As part of the exhibition you can watch an extract from the BBC documentary ‘The Man Who Shot Beautiful Women’ (which may still be available in full here.) I thought modern day photographer Rankin sumed up his work quite nicely:

“He defined the way that we think of the 40s and 50s, not necessarily how it looked but how we think it looked”

Rankin, The Man Who Shot Beautiful Women.

City lights, 1946. Erwin Blumenfeld

©The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld. Image source:

Aside from defining an era, Blumenfeld also developed innovative techniques and a distinctive style which has influenced countless photographers over the years.

Barbara Palvin, 1950. Erwin Blumenfeld

Barbara Palvin 1950 for Vogue ©The Estate of Erwin Blumenfeld

Image source:

Many photographers are enigmatic figures, recognising their work more easily than their person, so it was interesting to learn more about Blumenfeld himself as I explored the exhibition. As is often found with creative characters, he had a complex relationship with himself, his mortality and the women in his life.
If you have an interest in fashion or photography I definitely recommend it. It’s free so there’s nothing to lose!
You can find all the information you need to visit on Somerset House’s website.
Have you seen or do you plan to see the Blumenfeld exhibition? Have you enjoyed any other exhibitions at Somerset House?