Madame Yevonde holds a unique place among British photographers of the 20th century. As doyenne of society portrait photographers she photographed countless thousands of the good and the great during the course of a professional career which lasted no less than 61 years, from 1914 to 1975. Breaking with the outmoded attitudes that had governed the studios of her predecessors, she gradually developed her own individual, more realistic style, seeking to capture the essence of the sitter's personality, rather than perpetuate the romanticized stereotypes of a bygone age. From royalty and high society to soldiers in khaki and depressed shipyard workers, her all-seeing eye found something of interest to say about each one of them. The same humanitarian principles which had moved her to embrace the Suffragette cause while still in her 'teens later led her to explore in her work, through dressing up and role playing, many aspects of women's social and sexual roles, while issues of gender and identity which she addressed all those years ago have since found new expression in the work of Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin and Pierre & Gilles.

Madame Yevonde was not content, however, to confine herself to portraiture. From 1925 onwards, she turned increasingly to commercial work, especially magazine, fashion and advertising work, where her highly developed compositional skills and vivid imagination invested such mundane products as ENO's Fruit Salts and Lanoline hand cream with more than a touch of glamour and excitement. But even this work did not provide sufficient outlets for her boundless creative energy and in her more personal work - her 'still life phantasies', as she liked to call them - she produced many original, mildly surreal, occasionally thought-provoking but invariably fascinating images. Some of these made their first appearance in her 1932 exhibition at the Albany gallery in London, a clear indication that she was experimenting with this genre long before exhibitions of Surrealist works by Man Ray and Salvador Dali arrived in London.

However, it is as one of the world's foremost pioneers of colour photography that Madame Yevonde will be remembered by posterity. Between about 1930, when she first became acquainted with the VIVEX tri-colour separation process, and 1940, when the processing plant in London closed down during the war, never to re-open, she worked closely with the inventor and the laboratory technicians to refine the process and extend its already highly sophisticated capabilities. By 1932 she was sufficiently confident of her mastery of the process to mount the first exhibition of colour photography in England, which received a glowing review in the British Journal of Photography. During the few short years in which VIVEX was available to her, her unique colour sense, allied with her outstanding compositional skills and racing imagination, resulted in a seemingly endless kaleidoscope of exquisitely beautiful images, to which more than 3000 sets of colour negatives in the Yevonde Portrait Archive bear ample testimony. Foremost among these, the series of portraits of society ladies dressed in classical costume, now universally known as 'The Goddesses', marks the pinnacle of her artistic achievement with the process, and will ensure her a place in the history of fine art photography for all time. Many of these images have that unique ability to transcend all time, and having a distinctly 'modern' feel to them, will continue to appeal to each new generation of art lovers for as long as fine art photography is appreciated.

I sincerely hope that the ensuing pages of this web-site impart a flavour of the work and achievements of this most original, colourful and fascinating of all British photographers of the last century and will generate a new international audience far beyond the reaches of her native shores.

Lawrence N. Hole


Contact: [Tel/Fax] 01962 712316 [e]