British photographic history

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Exhibition: The Countess of Castiglione / until 26 July 2022

One of the highlights of the recent Photo London fair was James Hyman's The Countess of Castiglione. The exhibition has now opened at Hyman's gallery in London.  The exhibition includes over fifty rare portraits of the Countess from the 1850s to the 1890s. Directed and staged by the Countess, herself, and created in collaboration with the studio photographer Pierre-Louis Pierson, these “self-portraits” are some of the most extraordinary pictures in the history of photography, precursors to fashion photography and performative self-portraiture.

Today, we live in a world of selfies and social media: an Instagram world of constructed identities, performance, and disguise. But before all this, before super-models and influencers - 150 years ago - one of the most radical figures of the nineteenth century was pioneering new forms of fashion and conceptual photography: autofiction. In hundreds of portraits produced over a period of decades the Countess staged scenarios and performed different roles, to present different characters and personalities and to reflect multiple, fluid, unfixed identities.

Despite decades of activity, photographs by the Countess are incredibly rare as very few prints were made and she chose not to distribute. In fact, major exhibitions of her work only took place at the end of the 20th century at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris in 1999 and then at the Metropolitan Museum, New York in 2000. Most of her work is now in the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

The exhibition presents some of the most famous images of the Countess as well as an exquisite, recently discovered painted photograph of her which will be exhibited for the very first time.

The exhibition includes vintage prints as well as prints specially made in 1900 for her great admirer, the symbolist poet Robert Montesquiou, who spent thirteen years of his life writing her biography, which was published as La Divine Comtesse in 1913.

The Countess of Castiglione. The Creation of a Legend
James Hyman Gallery
50 Maddox Street, London, W1S 1AY
9 June – 29 July 2022

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