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The Work of Madame Yevonde

Madame Yevonde was born in London, England on January 5, 1893. In 1911, she took a 3-year apprenticeship with Lallie Charles, the foremost female portrait photographer of her day. In 1914, having only taken one actual photograph, Madame Yevonde decided to set-up her own studio and over the years gained quite a unique and personal style, as well as a name for herself in London society, as a premier portrait photographer. In 1921, she started exhibiting her work at The Royal Photographic Society Annual Exhibition and she also moved to a larger studio and began doing advertising work.

Madame Yevonde found the early thirties very successful and busy, yet she was becoming bored with black and white photography and started experimenting with the newly available Vivex Color process, invented by Dr. D. A. Spencer. At the time, her fellow photographers and the general public found color in photographs to be unacceptable and unnatural and were actively hostile to her new work. Yevonde made it her personal mission to convert the color-blind public to see color again.

In 1932, Yevonde hired the Albany Gallery in London to exhibit 70 of her color and her monochrome prints. This was the first exhibition of color portrait work in England by any photographer and it received a glowing review in the British Journal of Photography ... Mme Yevonde has most emphatically established her place among the leading and most up-to-date exponents of photographic portraiture.

In 1933, she again moved to a larger studio and flung herself wholeheartedly into her color work and over the next 6 years did her most creative work. She was now being sought after by members of London's high-society, including the Duke and Duchess of Kent, who wanted more untraditional, artsy portraiture. She was also sought after to do big advertising jobs by companies such as Christie's, Daimler, and in 1936 she was commissioned by Fortune Magazine to shoot the Queen Mary on her maiden voyage. During this time she began her theme of Goddesses and photographed members of the London elite as mythological characters including Medusa, Europa, Daphe, and Venus. Today, this is probably the work that Madame Yevonde is best known for.

In 1939, World War II broke out and soon after Colour Photographs Ltd., where the Vivex color process was manufactured and processed, closed down and Madame Yevonde was forced to stop working in color, leaving her work void of joy and enthusiasm. This same year her slightly estranged husband, Edgar died. Even after the war ended, the Vivex color process was never to become a standard again. Instead of settling with any other form of color process, Yevonde began experimenting with black and white and soon developed an interest in solarization.

Over the years, Madame Yevonde continued to photograph commercially; in 1964, at the age of 71 she was commissioned to photograph the country of Ethiopia. She also continued to exhibit her work in group and retrospective shows. In 1971, she offered her life's work to the National Portrait Gallery in London. When Madame Yevonde died on December 22, 1975, she left all of her negatives to her photo assistant Ann Forshaw, and they eventually passed to their present owner, Lawrence Hole..


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