Artist’s portraits of the 1950-70s

For this study, I’ve decided to make simple lists to summarise the ideas that are brought up in relation to these photographs of artists.  Obviously,I’m taking a slightly feminist view, so my thoughts often came back to gender roles,especially as ‘gender’ has been the over-arching theme of this week’s readings (notes/thoughts on those to follow).


Click on the artist’s name to visit their site or their biography. All portraits are the work of Hans Namuth (1915-1990)


Ad Reinhardt with his family (1958 )

ad reinhardt– authority


-traditional roles (father, husband, bread-winner)


tingurly and saint phalie

Jean Tinguely and Nicky de Saint-Phalle

New York City, 1962

-Gaze(who/what is the focus on? who are we supposed to be looking at?)

-Female form (of sculpture)

-Gender roles (He’ll smoke and work, she’ll sit there, bored but pretty)


Elaine de Kooning and Willem de Kooning

East Hampton, New York      1953

-Again, ideas of focus and importance, though here it made more obvious that Willem de Kooning is the focus of the photograph due to his prominence in the foreground.

-However, it is the woman this time caught smoking, which seems somewhat unusual, though it may be considered elegant in certain cases,and rendered masculine in others (“women on fire eating meat!”, as certain male friends of mine insist on saying rather rowdily every so often)


Helen Frankenthaler

West Islip, New York    1964

-here the scene shows Frankenthaler being taught by a man (presumably another artist)

-could be seen to hint at women’s lack of skill, but equally it is just a picture of her learning something new, or of a piece she worked on with another (it’s all too easy for us to read into things- we cannot tell whether the scene is staged or not, for example).

barnettnewmanBarnett Newman

-Again,smoking (perhaps I’m a little more aware of this as someone living in the age of the ban (how would they cope?)), but this stereotype plays further- alone, male- were the decor different, it could almost be a bar.

-There is a sense of self assurance as the artists sits, back to the canvases, almost as if he were not phased by them (though he may yet be unaware of how important these pieces would become/were made to become (more on that in week 2))


In general I feel these photos show a tendancy for women to be quite literally pictured as being a different kind of/of a lower class of artist in comparison to their male contemporaries. We see this through the subtle positioning of women in the image compared to the men (often behind, in the background), and the overall feelof the image- for example,whilst Newman seems clever, independent and confident due to his aloof position away from the camera- women in images are often not portrayed so powerfully.

2 Responses to “Artist’s portraits of the 1950-70s”

  1. 1 Peter Namuth March 7, 2016 at 11:20 pm

    None of the photographs in this article is credited. Considering that the photographs are central to the writer’s argument, I think it is inexcusable that the photographer, Hans Namuth, does not receive credit. One does not have to agree or disagree with the feminist viewpoint to recognize that this writer has gone to great lengths to underplay the role of women in the 1960s art movement in New York. If she had done a little more research, she would have discovered that Hans Namuth photographed many important female artists of the time, Mary Bauermeister, Lee Bontecou, Elizabeth de Cuevas, Tatyana Grosman, Patricia Johanson, Marisol, Sylvia Sleigh, Lea Krasner, Jane Wilson, Jane Freilicher as well as Helen Frankenthaler and Elaine de Kooning.

    • 2 AM March 8, 2016 at 8:02 am

      Hi Peter,
      My apologies for the lack of sources – I will attempt to update this today to credit the photographers. This blog was written 7 years ago as part of my undergraduate degree and shows my lack of understanding of proper crediting – this work should have been better sourced and if I were doing it now I would have liked to have spent more time giving a more thorough argument and discussing the nuances of the photographs, course literature, and my tutors’ and my own standpoint. I didn’t realise how easily searchable this is and the potential it has to set a bad example to other young students who might undertake similar projects, so thank you for bringing this blog back to my attention.
      Best wishes,

      UPDATE: All photos on this post are the work of Hans Namuth (to the best of my knowledge, no longer having access to the sources I used for this originally.) Namuth (1915-1990) is well known for his portraiture, especially celebrating the male AND female artists of this era. The book 52 Artists Photographs (1973) is definitely worth the investment if these works have wetted your appetite for more! If anyone would like to correct the source(s) on this site please let me know and I will credit accordingly.

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