There are times when you have to wonder if legends should continue to be, well, legendary, especially people who are notable for their beauty. Tastes and styles change, after all, and what was considered the epitome of gorgeousness back in the day, is now just dusty.
We were thinking about that when we dropped by Staley-Wise the other day to see their latest show, Bert Stern: Marilyn Monroe, The Last Sitting, 1962. This formal photo session for Vogue magazine has always been famous, not just because it happened just three months before Monroe’s death at age 36, but because it featured dozens of nude and semi-nude images, something not so common for a mainstream fashion magazine at the time. Stern’s professional abilities were put to the test with Monroe’s outstanding skills of expression and the result was images that transcend their era. These photographs really do cement the reputations of Marilyn Monroe as a beautiful woman and Bert Stern as a photographer who could capture the elusive essence of a person.
Another person who was expert at recording people was Hans Holbein the Younger, one of the premier artists of the 16th century. Working mainly in Basel and London, his skill in recording details of the face, clothes, and accessories impressed sitters and led to commissions from Erasmus and Henry VIII, among others. Holbein also did work in prints, book illustration, and jewelry design. Amazingly enough, this genius of northern Renaissance art has never had an exhibition in the United States until now, opening this week at The Morgan Library & Museum. Holbein: Capturing Character is an outstanding show, organized in collaboration with the Getty Museum, featuring rarely seen drawings from the Royal Collection Trust of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and paintings from museums from across Europe and America. Every image has an iconic quality: the poses often modelled on classical forms, the clothing and jewelry meticulously detailed, and the faces are vibrantly alive with beautifully rendered tones and textures. Hans Holbein captured the elusive essence of humanity in paint with as much precision as Bert Stern did 500 years later, both burnishing the legends and identities of their subjects while earning their own place in artistic history.