Monday, July 29, 2013

Hal Phyfe's Pastel and Camera Portraits

Hal Phyfe (1892-1968), according to this report: "Great Grandson of Duncan Phyfe, the iconic furniture designer of the early republic, Herold Rodney Eaton "Hal" Phyfe was born in Nice, France, to a New York society family. Trained as a sculptor in France and a painter in Italy, Hal Phyfe began pursuing photography an an enlistee in World War I..."

That link contains the most detailed biographical information I could find in a quick Web search. According to it, Phyfe did pastel portraits of Hollywood and Broadway stars after the war, then shifted to photography starting about 1926. Pastels were the fashionable portrait medium for movie fan magazine covers during the 1920s and early 30s, perhaps because smooth blending was possible so that faces of female stars generally looked more flattering than if done in oil paint. Plus, pastel portraits could be made relatively quickly and cheaply.

It seems that Phyfe was something of an eccentric who nevertheless was acceptable socially. And his approach to portrait photography of women was practical: scroll down the link for his hints to sitters.

As best I can judge, his pastel portraits were about par for the fan magazine cover course, lacking the pizazz of masters of that small art such as Rolf Armstrong. And his photos also strike me as being competent, but not in the Cecil Beaton or Edward Steichen league.

So that we have below are decently made period pieces, which make them interesting to me and perhaps you.


Bebe Daniels - 1923

Gloria Swanson - 1923

Gilda Gray - 1926

Colleen Moore - 1927

Billie Burke
Phyfe was one of Florenz Ziegfeld's photographers by 1930, but he made this pastel of Ziegfeld's wife Billie Burke for what seems to be a Follies promotional piece or program cover.

Photo in perfume ad - c.1926

Clara Bow - 1932

Marian Nixon

Una Merkel


dearieme said...

He poses a lot of his girls with rather sour little mouths, doesn't he?

By the by, Bebe Daniels was a comedy staple of my boyhood on the wireless, specifically on the Scottish Home Service.

Donald Pittenger said...

dearieme -- I might have posted something like the following thought years ago at 2Blowhards, but it is only in recent years that I've been (somewhat) able to see the real woman of 1920-1950 through all the variations in facial fashion.

One example is those penciled eyebrows in the Clara Bow photo, a style briefly repeated a few years ago. But it's the mouth-shape altering lipstick patterns that concerns us here. In the 1920s the lipstick fashion was "bee sting" where the outer edges of the lips got little lipstick and the central parts were painted perhaps a bit beyond the edges of the lips themselves. In the early 1940s the style was to have lipstick at or over the line all the way around (except sometimes at the V of the upper lip). I suppose the idea was to create a sultry, full-lip look.

And then there was the no-lipstick, granny-glasses style of around 1970...

mike shupp said...

The magazine covers don't do much for me. Maybe if one actually were a fan of the women depicted ... but in my state of ignorance, I've seen Hallmark greeting cards that were more absorbing.

Other hand, his photographs show women who look attractive, intelligent, completely individual,and worthy of serious conversation. I've got to applaud.

Michael D Walker said...

I was reading something earlier today about Phyfe that he insisted his subjects not smile during their photo shoot. Odd....

Trying to track down his heirs and a good copy of the portrait he did of author Thorne Smith.

Glad to stumble upon your site today!

Anonymous said...

Why isn't the 1932 Clara Bow photo signed in white by Phyfe......? The other ones are signed! Anybody know?