Edward Quinn: A Day's Work

26 Apr - 17 Jun 2007

“I have lived through an exciting, unique period on the Riviera. As Shakespeare wrote ‘All the World’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players…’ The Cote d’Azur during the “Golden Fifties” was one of the largest and most beautiful stages in the world. Its actors were often magnificent and glamorous. And though the curtain has gone down, the memories remain. “

- Edward Quinn

We are delighted to announce the first UK exhibition of vintage prints by Edward Quinn. Best known for his photographs of celebrities on the French Riviera in the 1950s, to label Quinn a celebrity photographer would be to reduce both him and his work. The exhibition will also include his later portraits of artists, writers and politicians along with documentary work on the gypsies in the Camargue and evocative portraits of his native Dublin. The similarity between all of Quinn’s work is that his subjects were never consciously posing –these are all true, unguarded portraits. 

A musician and RAF radio navigator by trade, Quinn found himself in Monte Carlo soon after World War II and was astute enough to realize he could make a living photographing the stars relaxing off-screen. At this time the Riviera was a stage for the beautiful, rich and famous and a star’s off-screen image could be pivotal in his career. Quinn developed relationships with many film stars amongst which Grace Kelly, Brigitte Bardot, Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren, which enabled him to capture them spontaneously and unguarded in his portraits. These photographs are a poignant memento of the golden age of the Cote d’Azur before it was irreversibly changed by publicists, paparazzi and tourism. 

One of the first celebrities Quinn met was Picasso, at the opening of an exhibition in 1951 and their friendship lasted until the artist’s death in 1973. Quinn’s lack of formal training and talent for taking improvised shots proved invaluable when photographing Picasso –he wanted to capture his true character rather than staged shots of the artist. Picasso admired Quinn’s improvisation and said of him “Toi, tu sais faire un portrait” (You know how to make a portrait). 

Quinn’s portraits of his contemporary artists, politicians, writers, musicians and racing drivers have rarely been seen before but are amongst his best work. Photographs of Somerset Maugham obscured by shadows at his desk, Winston Churchill appearing from behind a curtain, Dizzy Gillespie horsing around and Picasso paddling in the sea all offer us a fresh glimpse of these key figures, an alternate view from familiar staid portraits of the time. Quinn also applied his eye to capturing his native Ireland. Born in Dublin his portraits of the city and her people are atmospheric and evocative portraits of the 1960s.