Horst Paul Albert Bohrmann (Aka. Horst P. Horst) was born on 14 August 1906 in Weißenfels-an-der-Saale, Germany in a well-to-do protestant family.
In his teens, Horst met dancer Evan Weidemann at the home of his aunt, and this aroused his interest in avant-garde art. In the late 1920s, Horst studied at Hamburg Kunstgewerbeschule, leaving there in 1930 to go to Paris to study under the architect Le Corbusier.
In 1930 Horst met Vogue photographer Baron George Hoyningen-Huene, a half-Baltic, half-American nobleman in Paris, and became his photographic assistant, occasional model, and lover. He traveled to England with Baron Hoyningen-Huene that winter and visited photographer Cecil Beaton, who was working for the British edition of Vogue.
In 1931, Horst began his association with Vogue, publishing his first photograph in the French edition of Vogue in December of that year. It was a full-page advertisement showing a model in black velvet holding a Klytia scent bottle in one hand with the other hand raised elegantly above it... Horst´s real breakthrough as a published fashion and portrait photographer was in the pages of British Vogue starting with the 30 March 1932 issue showing three fashion studies and a full page portrait of the daughter of Sir James Dunn, the art patron and supporter of Surrealism.
Horst´s first exhibition took place at La Plume d'Or in Paris in 1932. It was reviewed by Janet Flanner in The New Yorker, and this review, which appeared after the exhibition ended, made Horst instantly prominent. Horst made a portrait of Bette Davis the same year, the first in a series of public figures he would photograph during his career. Within two years, he had photographed Noël Coward, Yvonne Printemps, Lisa Fonssagrives, Count Luchino Visconti di Madrone, Duke Fulco di Verdura, Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg, Princess Natalia Pavlovna Paley, Daisy Fellowes, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, Cole Porter, Elsa Schiaparelli, and others like Eve Curie.
Horst rented an apartment in New York City in 1937, and while residing there met Coco Chanel, whom Horst called "the queen of the whole thing". He would photograph her fashions for three decades.
He met Valentine Lawford, British diplomat in 1938, and they lived together until Lawford's death in 1991. They adopted and raised a son, Richard J. Horst, together.
In 1939, Horst P. Horst took "The Mainbocher Corset" for French Vogue, with its erotically charged mystery, it would become one of the most iconic photoes of 20 Century. Designers like Donna Karan continue to use "The Mainbocher Corset" as an inspiration for their outerwear collections. Horst´s work frequently reflects his interest in surrealism and his regard of the ancient Greek ideal of physical beauty.
On October 21 1941, Horst received his United States citizenship as Horst P. Horst. He became an Army photographer, with much of his work printed in the forces' magazine Belvoir Castle. In 1945, he photographed United States President Harry S. Truman, with whom he became friends, and he photographed every First Lady in the post-war period at the invitation of the White House.
In 1947, Horst moved into his house in Oyster Bay, New York. He designed the white stucco-clad building himself, the design inspired by the houses that he had seen in Tunisia during his relationship with Hoyningen-Huene.
Horst is best known for his photographs of women and fashion, one of his most famous portraits is of Marlene Dietrich, taken in 1942. She protested the lighting that he had selected and arranged, but he used it anyway. Dietrich liked the results and subsequently used a photo from the session in her own publicity.
As a versatile photographer, Horst P. Horst is also recognized for his photographs of interior architecture, still lifes, especially ones including plants, and environmental portraits.
Horst´s method of work typically entailed careful preparation for the shoot, with the lighting and studio props (of which he used many) arranged in advance. His instructions to models are remembered as being brief and to the point. His published work uses lighting to pick out the subject; he frequently used four spotlights, often one of them pointing down from the ceiling. Only rarely do his photos include shadows falling on the background of the set. Horst rarely, if ever, used filters. While most of his work is in black & white, much of his color photography includes largely monochromatic settings to set off a colorful fashion. Horst's color photography did include documentation of society interior design, well noted in the volume Horst Interiors. He photographed a number of interiors designed by Robert Denning and Vincent Fourcade of Denning & Fourcade and often visited their homes in Manhattan and Long Island. After making the photograph, Horst generally left it up to others to develop, print, crop, and edit his work.
In the 1960s, encouraged by Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, Horst began a series of photos illustrating the lifestyle of international high society which included people like: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Duke of Windsor and Duchess of Windsor, Consuelo Vanderbilt, Marella Agnelli, Gloria Guinness, Baroness Pauline de Rothschild and Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Yves Saint Laurent, Comtesse Jacqueline de Ribes, Lee Radziwill, Helen of Greece and Denmark, Baroness Geoffroy de Waldner, Princess Tatiana of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, Peregrine Eliot, 10th Earl of St Germans and Lady Jacquetta Eliot, Countess of St Germans, Antenor Patiño, Oscar de la Renta and Françoise de Langlade, Desmond Guinness and Princess Henriette Marie-Gabrielle von Urach, Andy Warhol, Nancy Lancaster, Doris Duke, Emilio Pucci, Cy Twombly, Amanda Burden, Paloma Picasso.
The articles were written by the photographer's longtime companion, Valentine Lawford. From this point until nearly the time of his death, Horst spent most of his time traveling and photographing.
In the mid 1970s, while keeping his work with Vogue, including its Italian, French, British editions, Horst began working also for House & Garden magazine, Vogue´s sister publication, touring around the world. But he dedicated more of his time to writing books and exhibiting his photography.
Horst's last photograph for British Vogue was in 1991 with Princess Michael of Kent, shown against a background of tapestry and wearing a tiara belonging to her mother-in-law, Princess Marina, who he had photographed in 1934.
Horst P. Horst died at his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida at 93 years of age.
Horst Portraits: 60 Years of Style 1st Edition
by Terence Pepper (Author), Horst P. Horst (Author), Charles Saumarez Smith (Author)
Horst's photographic career spanned from 1931 to 1991. The son of a hardware store owner in eastern Germany, Horst found his way to Paris, where he became the assistant to George Hoyningen-Huene, chief photographer for Paris Vogue. Largely self-taught, Horst began publishing fashion photos in Vogue fewer than two years later and eventually established the style of sophisticated posing and dramatic lighting that would make him famous. In this book, published to accompany an exhibit that originated at the National Portrait Gallery and is currently at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Pepper (curator of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery) and Muir (former picture editor for British Vogue) offer Horst's images of the leading figures in the arts, movies, and society that have become the very pictures most often associated with these famous faces. Included are portraits of Noel Coward, Cecil Beaton, Katharine Hepburn, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali, and others, as well as many famous fashion models. A biographical essay traces Horst's life and influences. Notes on the plates describe the sitter, photographic session, and other interesting details that enrich the images.
Hardcover – November 1, 1993
by Barbara Plumb (Author)
Since the 1950s, interior design photographer Horst has had unmatched access to the private homes of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Oscar de la Renta, Andy Warhol, Yves St. Laurent, and Palamo Picasso. A unique insider's view of the rooms inhabited by the elite of America and Europe. 200 color photos.
Around That Time: Horst at Home in Vogue
Hardcover – October 4, 2016
by Valentine Lawford (Author), Ivan Shaw (Author), Hamish Bowles (Author)
Vogue’s Book of Houses, Gardens, People (1968) was a landmark publication among decorating books, and it chronicles an important chapter in the history of Vogue. Vogue’s Horst P. Horst, a leading fashion photographer of his time, developed an intense interest in seeing the world’s great homes and meeting their owners; beginning in the early 1960s, he journeyed in an elite world that would soon be lost. With accompanying lyrical essays about homes and their occupants by the famed writer Valentine Lawford (Horst’s partner in work and life), the book is a virtual who’s who of society, politics, and the arts in the mid-20th century. Around That Time showcases much of the material featured in the original book, plus never-before-seen photographs from those homes as well as images from additional homes Horst shot well into the 1980s.
Horst: Sixty Years of Photography
Hardcover – July 15, 1991
by Martin Kazmaier (Author), Host P. Horst (Photographer)
Celebrated Vogue fashion photographer Horst P. Horst defines an attitude, a genre, with his studies of women--icons of elegance, unattainable goddesses--captured with calm detachment. This tony tribute to the work of the German-born, New York-based photographer is studded with portraits of figures from 1930s' Paris--Coco Chanel, Gertrude Stein, Cole Porter, Janet Flanner, etc. The book includes a multitude of portraits--many predictable, others revealing--of luminaries such as W. H. Auden, Truman Capote, Katherine Hepburn, Andy Warhol, Calvin Klein, Brooke Shields, Harry Truman, the Duchess of Windsor. Horst's still lifes and stagey fashion ads often border on kitsch, but every so often he turns out a strong, original beauty like the raindrop-stained Still life with Tulips (1950), radiant, sincere and gorgeous. Kazmaier is a German dramatist and photography critic.
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