Yevonde: Life and Colour at Laing Art Gallery

Maja Lorkowska, Exhibitions Editor
Mask (Rosemary Chance) by Yevonde (1938, printed 2022-3), purchased with support from the Portrait Fund, 2021 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Yevonde: Life and Colour at Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle 11 November 2023 — 20 April 2024 Tickets from £7.00 — Book now

Newcastle’s Laing Art Gallery celebrates the 60 year photography career of Yevonde Middleton, known as Madame Yevonde, or simply Yevonde. The exhibition has previously been shown at the National Portrait Gallery in 2021 and has now travelled up North to delight audiences with new prints and discoveries about the artist’s work revealed by the latest research.

Born in 1893, Yevonde was a pioneer in colour photography, boldly experimenting with portraiture and still life through the 20th century. Early on, she became involved in the Suffragette movement yet soon realised this was not the path for her. It was through the contacts she made there that she gained a place as a photographer’s apprentice and her artistic journey began.

Her work appeared in major publications such as Tatler, Sketch and Eve’s Journal and while her fashion photography brought success, Yevonde’s body of work was much broader: her portraits were often unconventional and incorporated Surrealist iconography alongside still lives. Her list of sitters was impressive too, including George Bernard Shaw, Vivien Leigh, John Gielgud, and Princess Alexandra.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of Yevonde’s work is colour. At a time when colour photography was new and treated with suspicion at best and contempt at worst, Yevonde’s enthusiasm for its possibilities came through wonderfully in her work. She used the solarisation and the Vivex colour process resulting in photographs with tasteful colour combinations and a dreamlike aura. The artist is now remembered as a trailblazer of the medium, having been the first person in Britain to exhibit colour photographs.

Yevonde is possibly best known for her Goddess series, where models posed in surreal tableaux. In these photographs, she used representations of Greek and Roman goddesses with a modern twist, sprinkled with playfulness and a touch of the surreal. One of the newly discovered portraits which viewers can enjoy for the first time is the portrait of Dorothy Gisborne (Pratt) as Psyche (1935). Yevonde’s portrayal of the Greek goddess of the soul with butterfly wings is a previously unknown element of the Goddess series. 

Yevonde: Life and Colour brings the artist the recognition she deserves for her commitment to innovation in the field of colour photography, so don’t miss the chance to come face to face with her work.

Yevonde: Life and Colour at Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle 11 November 2023 — 20 April 2024 Tickets from £7.00 Book now

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