Art, Art & Archives, J. Paul Getty Museum, Photographs, Film, and Video

The Photograph That Kicked Herb Ritts’s Career into High Gere

Richard Gere, San Bernardino, Herb Ritts, 1977. Gelatin silver print, 20 x 16 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011.18.20. Gift of Herb Ritts Foundation. © Herb Ritts Foundation

Today the Getty Museum announced the acquisition of 69 photographs by famed fashion and celebrity photographer Herb Ritts. The acquisition includes photographs of nudes, celebrity portraits, and images made for high-fashion ad campaigns.

A portrait of Richard Gere as a budding young actor taken by Ritts in 1977 is one of the highlights, but it also has an interesting backstory. In an interview with François Quintin in 1999, Ritts talked about this famous picture of his friend Richard, which depicts Gere as a new American hero—and which launched Ritts’s photography career. Here’s an excerpt from the interview, posted on the Herb Ritts Foundation’s website:

I knew Richard’s girlfriend, Penny, who was an actress, and she introduced me to Richard. Actually, when I first started dabbling in photography, I was still working for my parents as a salesman. Penny was supposed to come to my house to take a head shot, but she never showed. Richard arrived; he was going to meet her there. I asked if I could take a picture of him, and he said no—he was very shy and had very long hair—but finally I did. A week or so later, we were driving around in Penny’s car and got a flat tire and ended up in a desert gas station, where we took pictures. Later that year, Richard told his new publicist, “Oh, Herb took a couple of rolls of me.” He had fairly well-known photographers shooting him already; it happened quickly for him. So I sent the negatives and forgot about it. What did I know? I wasn’t a photographer. Three months later, the pictures appeared in American Vogue, Esquire, and Mademoiselle. Big spreads. One day soon thereafter, Mademoiselle tracked me down and asked me to do Brooke Shields, and I said sure. I didn’t say I wasn’t a photographer.

Selections from this acquisition will be featured in an exhibition opening at the Getty Center in April 2012. Other highlights from the acquisition are Greg Louganis, Hollywood (1985), a portrait of the American Olympic diver; Wrapped Torso, Los Angeles (1988), which shows off a dress by Japanese designer Issey Mikaye; Stephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood (1989), an iconic image that has come to define the era of the Supermodel; Veiled Dress, El Mirage (1990), a photograph first used in Versace’s couture catalogue, and a suite of photographs of the internationally recognized choreographer and dancer Bill T. Jones.

A number of the photographs in the acquisition have not been reproduced, exhibited, or seen outside of the Herb Ritts Foundation’s archive.

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      A Brief History of the Fleur-de-lis in Art

      The fleur-de-lis, a familiar symbol with varied meanings and a rather obscure origin.

      If you read the labels of objects in museums bearing the fleur-de-lis (in French, fleur de lys, pronounced with the final “s”), you might notice that they were all made in France before the French Revolution of 1789. 

      What’s less apparent is that the fleur-de-lis marks objects that bear witness to a dramatic history of monarchy, democracy, and war: they speak to the inherent power of trappings commissioned for and by France’s pre-revolutionary kings.

      Adopted as a royal emblem in France by the 1100s, the fleur-de-lis can be traced to early Frankish monarchs including Clovis I, who converted to Christianity in 496, and the renowned Charlemagne. 

      A French word, fleur-de-lis translates literally to “lily flower.” This is appropriate given the association of lilies with purity (and the Virgin Mary) and given that France has long been known as the “Eldest Daughter of the Church.” In truth, the stylized flower most closely resembles a yellow iris. 

      As a heraldic symbol used in the arms of the French monarchy, the fleur-de-lis often appears in yellow or gold tones and set on a blue shield. 

      Given its intimate royal associations, the fleur-de-lis invoked the ire of revolutionaries even before the fall of the monarchy in 1792. In addition to toppling royal statues, vandals chipped away at crowns and fleurs-de-lis adorning the façades of buildings.

      Full blog post on the Getty Iris here.

      04/28/16

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