the Bowdoin College Art Museum (BCMA) announced today that it has received a gift of sixteen photographs from Irving Penn of his former studio assistant Robert Freson. Spanning over fifty years of the photographer’s prolific career and demonstrating the variety of his portrait work, the gift includes several examples of Penn’s iconic portraits of other artists such as Jacob Lawrence and Georgia O’Keeffe, as well as his photographs of anonymous workers in New York. The giveaway also includes examples of Penn’s fashion and still life photography. Freson, now a resident of Bailey Island, Maine, selected the images with special help from representatives of the Irving Penn Foundation to ensure they provide insight into Penn’s august career.
“We are immensely grateful to Robert Freson for having enriched our collection of 20th century photographs so substantially with this extraordinary gift. We look forward to sharing Penn’s works with Bowdoin students, faculty and the general public, and to studying them alongside the museum’s collection,” said BCMA Co-Director Frank Goodyear. “Penn’s works arrive at the BCMA as we prepare for two major photography exhibitions opening in February 2022: the first museum retrospective by photographer Marcia Resnick and an immersive installation by photographer Jona Frank and designer Alex Kalman,” added Anne Collins Goodyear, Co.-Director of the BCMA. “The timing of Robert’s generous donation increases this celebration of photography at the BCMA, and we are very excited about the possibilities for future exhibitions and scholarship created by adding these works to our collection.”
Irving Penn (1917-2009) is one of the great portrait painters of the 20th century. Penn had a particular interest in artists, and the gift features portraits of Marcel Duchamp, Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso and Jacob Lawrence, who is pictured alongside his wife Gwendolyn Knight. Other notable portraits include Louis Armstrong playing with Duke Ellington and his iconic hand photograph of Miles Davis. The giveaway also includes examples of Penn’s fashion photography, such as a cover he photographed for vogue and a photograph of a model wearing a Balenciaga dress that almost looks like a modern sculpture through Penn’s lens. In addition, the collection contains experimental photographs as well as images taken during the artist’s travels to France, Peru and New Guinea.
Freson worked as Penn’s studio assistant from 1949 until 1962, when he left to pursue his own career as a freelance photographer. In 2019, he partnered with the BCMA to develop “Photographic Lives: Robert Freson, Irving Penn, and the Portrait,” an exhibit curated by BCMA student intern Ellery Harkness ’21.
“Since moving to Maine, I have been a regular visitor to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art and follow its programming closely,” Freson said. “The BCMA is not only the center for the arts in Bowdoin, but it is also a vital cultural center for the region, both in terms of presenting exhibitions and creating new scholarship. Penn has devoted much of his life to research, study, and self-improvement, so I have no doubt he would be delighted to see this collection now readily available to students, professors, and others who wish to study his work in an academic setting. .”
Bowdoin College Art Museum
The Bowdoin College Museum of Art is the cornerstone of arts and culture in Bowdoin. One of the nation’s first collegiate art collections, it began with James Bowdoin III’s 1811 bequest of 79 European paintings and a portfolio of 140 master drawings. The collection has grown through the generosity of the Bowdoin family, alumni and friends, and now numbers over 20,000 objects, including paintings, sculptures, works on paper, decorative arts and artifacts from prehistory to the present day from civilizations around the world.
Bowdoin College Art Museum
245 Maine Street
Braunschweig, ME 04011