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The Crack Magazine

yevonde Viven Leigh by Yevonde (1936, printed 2022-3), purchased with support from the Portrait Fund, 2021 © National Potrait Gallery, London.jpeg

Colour Me Happy

Yevonde (1893-1975) was a real pioneer of 20th century colour photography, and a wide-ranging exhibition of her stunning work can currently be seen at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle.

Strange to say, but colour photography wasn’t particularly seen as a serious art form back in the early part of the 20th century. According to extravagantly whiskered men in stiff collars, black and white was all. Yevonde Middleton (or Madame Yevonde or simply Veyovnde), however, was having none of it: “If we are going to have colour photographs, for heaven’s sake let’s have a riot of colour, none of your wishy washy hand tinted effects.”

Yevonde was introduced to photography by dint of her involvement with the suffragette cause, and this exhibition – which is coming off the back of a highly successful run at the National Portrait Gallery – focuses on the freedom that photography afforded Yevonde, reflecting the growing independence of women after the First World War.

Over 150 works are included in the show including a plethora of portraits taking of luminaries such as George Bernard Shaw, Vivien Leigh, John Gielgud and Princess Alexandra. Her most famous and well-regarded body of work is also represented and that is her series of women dressed as Goddesses posed in surreal tableaux, which was first exhibited as part of ‘Goddess & Others’ (1935) at her Berkeley Square studio in London. She took inspiration from an Olympian charity ball and constructed dreamlike representations of modern, humorous and surreal Greek and Roman Goddesses in vivid colour at her studio. In displaying these portraits, the exhibition will consider the aesthetic and mythic references paired with the biographies of the sitters. All that and not a wishy-washy hand tint in sight.

Yevonde: Life and Colour, until 20 April, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, laingartgallery.org.uk

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