Until 18th October
Are there any bad photographs of Audrey Hepburn? It seems unlikely given the evidence on show right now at the National Portrait Gallery. Audrey Hepburn was much photographed throughout her life and here the NPG has gathered together, with the help of Hepburn’s two sons, an amazing collection of images of the iconic star, many never seen before in the UK. This major exhibition has photographs from Hepburn’s childhood, her early dancer days, throughout the Hollywood decades and culminating with the time she gave to humanitarian work for UNICEF in later life.
Audrey Hepburn had a face so singular as to be instantly recognisable – the heart-shaped face, the dark eyebrows, the short fringe – and a super-slim figure that whilst elegant and chic did not conform to the curvaceous template of her contemporaries in the 1950s. When so many of today’s movie stars look so similar to one another and homogenous, it is good to be reminded of a time when things were different.
Hepburn herself did not rate her looks, her son reporting in a past Vanity Fair interview that “she thought she had a big nose and big feet, and she was too skinny and not enough breast. She would look in the mirror and say, ‘I don’t understand why people see me as beautiful.'” Well, we certainly do still see her as beautiful to this day and international admiration for her style and looks has endured long after her death in 1993.
Born in Brussels in 1929, Hepburn’s youth was spent in Arnhem and Amsterdam, where she endured the privations of WWII in occupied Europe, before moving to London in 1948. The exhibition has a section devoted to Audrey Hepburn’s early career as a dancer and chorus girl in post war London. A pair of her ballet shoes are on show and there are theatre posters of a very young Audrey before she got her big break in Gigi. From the very earliest photographs Hepburn gazes out like a wary fawn. Many of the images throughout the exhibition show not only Audrey’s oft-commented-on vulnerability but also a thoughtful self containment that is yet another element of her enduring appeal.
But it is of course the photographs from her career in film and fashion that dominate the exhibition. And rightly so. There are publicity photographs together with photographs taken on set from some of her most famous and most loved films such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Funny Face, The Nun’s Story and Roman Holiday. The NPG has also gathered a selection of fashion photographs of Hepburn from the leading photographers of the day including Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, Angus McBean, Terry O’Neill and Norman Parkinson.
The exhibition closes with a room that holds not only photographs of Hepburn at work in Africa for UNICEF but also a wall of magazine covers featuring the iconic star. This last room shows the two sides of Audrey Hepburn – the film and fashion megastar who graced the cover of Time, Vogue and Harper’s and the humanitarian who, recalling her own early wartime experiences, never forgot the hardships suffered by children in war-torn countries and worked tirelessly to help them.
Audrey Hepburn’s son, Luca Dotti, said of his mother, ‘She would be honoured to have an exhibition dedicated to her at the National Portrait Gallery. And glad to be back home.’ And to that we can only say – welcome home, Audrey.
This gorgeous exhibition is already the must-see summer blockbuster for the National Portrait Gallery. Book now and don’t miss it.
Exhibition is on until 18th October 2015
Adult £10 and Concessions £8.50
Including voluntary donation
BOOK NOW at npg.org.uk/hepburn
Or in person at the gallery
Daily 10am – 6pm
Late opening Thursday & Friday until 9pm
National Portrait Gallery
St Martin’s Place
London WC2H 0HE