Horst P. Horst Recalls His First Nude, and Nearly Nude, Shoots

Horst P. Horst captured some of the most iconic photographs, and personas, of the 20th century. But despite his notoriety, we know much more about his classic images—which are the subject of endless study, praise, and commentary—than is heard from the legend himself. But Horst did offer rare reflections on two of his most iconic photographs:

Mainbocher Corset (1939)

“It was the last photograph I took in Paris before the war,” Horst said of his iconic Mainbocher Corset. Capturing a blonde model from behind, the photograph reveals her unraveling corset, designed by Detolle for the American couturier Main Rousseau Bocher. The image—and the pink satin corset—were a sensation, and appeared in the September issue of Vogue in 1939. Hours after completing the photoshoot in Vogue’s Paris studio, at 4am, Horst left for the train station to flee the impending occupation of Paris, and it was three months yet before Condé Nast, the owner of Vogue, would agree to publish the image. “At that time Mr. Nast wouldn’t dream of showing a nude,” Horst once told The New York Times. In order to make the cut, the image was airbrushed to appear less exposed. “I had left it open,” Horst had added, “because it captured the mood in France in 1939, the idea of escape.”

Lisa with Harp (1939)

“One day I wanted to make some nude photographs, which I had never done before,” Horst said of his most famous set of nudes and his initial attempt to shoot them—with favorite model Lisa Fonssagrives.“[Lisa] had a very beautiful body, and was not afraid of her body—she was used to Nacktkultur,” he said, referring to the nudist movement in Germany at the time … one Condé Nast was not yet ready for. Horst’s iconic double-exposure photograph of Lisa, overlaid with a harp, was taken in Condé Nast’s commercial studios. When word got out that Horst had taken nudes on site (notably, to fellow photographer Cecil Beaton, who was ready to follow suit), Mr. Nast quickly put an end to the nude shoots. But for Horst, it was only the beginning, and the rest of his iconic nudes were photographed in studios elsewhere.

Collect photographs by legendary photographer Horst P. Horst from Vogue Archives, exclusively on Artsy.

Share article