Saturday, September 1, 2012

In Vibrant Color: Vintage Celebrity Portraits from the Harry Warnecke Studio

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: through September 9, 2012

I confess I was a bit disappointed with this show.  I had gotten the impression from all of the publicity (posters outside the museum, for example) that this was going to be a big show.  I expected it to be in one of the large spaces - perhaps the one used for The Black List and Hide/Seek.  Instead, it's quite a small show, in a hallway, rather than in a series of rooms.  That's not to say that this is a bad exhibit; it's just not what I had thought it would be.

Harry Warnecke came up with the idea of putting full-color pictures of celebrities in the Sunday News magazine of the New York Daily News, long before color pictures were commonplace.  His idea paid off, and the newspapers sold very well.  The notes for the exhibit explain a bit about the process of making color prints - a LOT harder than snapping a photo with your phone.

The pictures on display are from the 1930s and 1940s, and one gets a sense of who those decades' celebrities were by looking at the entertainers, sports figures and military leaders whose portraits make up the show.  The photography is quite good, especially when you consider the level of technology available to the artists at the time.

One of the subjects was General Patton - I admit, I was surprised to see what he really looked like.  I think I was expecting to see a photo of George C. Scott!

Verdict: Worth a look - won't take more than a few minutes to see it all.  Easy to combine this with another exhibit or a stroll around the permanent collection.

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