Celebrating East meets West: Norman Parkinson’s India series British Vogue 1956

In these days where we are all looking forward to museums and galleries re-opening on June 1 – I literally can’t wait! – we wanted to share a little throwback with you to the sensational Norman Parkinson exhibit in Mumbai some years ago. 

The legendary fashion photographer was asked by British Vogue in 1956 to travel to India for a major fashion shoot. After the frugality of the war and the focus on Europe, the world was ready for sumptuous designs shot against dazzling, far-flung backgrounds. Parkinson snapped models Anne Gunning and Barbara Mullen throughout the vast country, from Mahabalipuram to Kashmir: in a bathing suit in front of the Taj Mahal, draped in mousseline in Srinagar’s Dal Lake, in a gold Dior evening gown against the pillars of the Quaqat-al-Islam or in an elegant white suit in the Jaipur City Palace.

He made the most of the architecture, the landscape and the dazzling colors – they formed the perfect background for the elegant creations in clean lines modelled by these “swans”, who were often accompanied in the picture by equally beautiful attired inhabitants. He used color film extensively – he understood that color was at the heart of the Indian aesthetic. My favorite photo is the one where Anne Gunning, wearing a pale pink mohair coat and stunning jewellery, is outshone by a richly decorated elephant in a fuchsia cover and gold tusk rings, no doubt inspiring Diana Vreeland’s (then Vogue’s editor-in-chief) famous quote: “Pink is the navy blue of India”.

Contributing author: Hélène van der Ven 
Hélène van der Ven Fine Art Consultancy is a leading art advisory firm, specializing in buying & selling fine art, collection management and arts & culture strategies. www: helenevanderven.com