David Farrell, Iconic Images of the Greatest Artists from the 20th Century, Osborne Samuel, London

This exhibition currently on display is the first survey of works by David Farrell (1919-2013) since his death earlier last year, and showcases images of famous sitters from Louis Armstrong and Laurence Olivier, to Anthony Caro, Margot Fonteyn and the Rolling Stones. The British photographer is internationally renowned for his iconic images of the greatest musicians, actors, authors, dancers and artists of the 20th century, as well as documentary works depicting domestic life in Britain and anonymous street subjects.

Born in London, Farrell studied at Dulwich College and trained at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1946, following a period of active service with the RAF during WW2, he moved to Gloucestershire and into a circle of intellectuals and artists including Lynn Chadwick, Jacob Bronowski and Peter Nichols.

Family responsibilities saw Farrell abandon his ambitions to become a solo violinist, and so he turned to photography. He quickly secured a commission from the British Council to create a series of portraits of well-known artists such as Henry Moore, Eduardo Paolozzi and Barbara Hepworth. This series established his reputation and career; in 1955 he made a return to music, commissioned to photograph Yehudi Menuhin, Baron Menuhin, OM, KBE, and Sir Thomas Beecham at the Bath Festival.

Farrell went on to make numerous portraits of performers in informal situations, often photographing them in their homes or studios rather than in public performance. His approach proved popular with his sitters: John Gielgud, on seeing his portrait, asking “David, where were you? I didn’t know you were there!’ and conductor Menuhin claiming that Farrell’s work was the visual equivalent of his own musical achievement.

Farrell photographed pop stars of 1960s, including early performances by the Beatles, Cilla Black and Tom Jones, and in the late ‘60s and ‘70s he turned to theatre and film with an invitation to photograph the production of Peter Hall’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1968) starring Diana Rigg and Helen Mirren. Over subsequent years Farrell worked on more than 100 films and TV dramas alongside directors including Michael Winner and Ken Loach.

Farrell’s five-decade career has left an extraordinary legacy of images which catalogues the 20th century’s most celebrated stage, screen and soundtrack stars, a broad selection of which will be on view for just twenty days.

David Farrell, until 20 September 2014, Osborne Samuel, 23a Bruton Street, London W1J 6QG. For more information visit www.osbornesamuel.com.

1. David Farrell, Louis Armstrong, London, 1970. Courtesy of Osborne Samuel.

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