On Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023, on the same day as the Modern and Contemporary Art auction, the Photography catalog will go up for auction at 2 p.m. The catalog includes works spanning history and major international events, from the late 19th century to iconic photographs of the 20th century to works by contemporary artists.
Among them all, note lot 38, Elsa Peretti as a Bunny by Helmut Newton (estimate: €15,000 – €20,000), an iconic 1994 shot printed in silver salt gelatin, with the photographer’s signature and dedication in pencil.
Helmut Newton, pseudonym of Helmut Neustädter (Berlin, Oct. 31, 1920 – West Hollywood, Jan. 23, 2004), was a German naturalized Australian photographer, best known for his studies of the female nude.
But let’s look back at his incredible history and his most iconic works.
Born in Berlin’s Schöneberg district to a Jewish family, the son of Klara “Claire” Marquis and Max Neustädter who owned a button factory, he grew up in Berlin’s good bourgeoisie of the 1920s-30s, attended the Heinrich von Treitschke Realgymnasium and the American School in Berlin.
Interested in photography from an early age, he purchased his first camera as early as 12. It is the 1930s, and the young Newton is already well aware of the road ahead: school is narrow for him and he prefers to skip classes to devote himself to his Agfa Box. Like Brassaï, a photographer of the previous generation whom he looks up to with interest, Newton investigates, narrates and fixes on his film the city’s suburbs and places silenced by mainstream culture.
From 1936 he began working with German photographer Elsie Neulander Simon, known as Yva. As her student, Newton learned the rudiments of fashion advertising photography, an area that would lead him to success alongside portraiture and the female nude.
As a result of Nazi racial laws, he left Germany in 1938, embarking in Trieste on the steamer “Il Conte Rosso” and took refuge in Singapore, working as a photographer for the Singapore Straits Times.
He was later interned by British authorities in Singapore and deported to Australia on the RMS Queen Mary. He arrived in Sydney on November 27, 1940 and was taken to Tatura Internment Camp (Victoria) where he remained until 1942 after working briefly as a fruit picker. In April 1942 he joined the Australian Army where he worked driving army trucks. In 1945 he changed his surname from Neustädter to Newton, which is the almost exact English translation of his German surname.
On May 13, 1948 he married Australian actress June Browne known as a photographer under the pseudonym “Alice Springs” (named after the Australian city of the same name). After the war he worked as a freelance photographer producing fashion shoots and working with magazines such as Playboy. From the late 1950s onward he concentrated on fashion photography, settling in Paris.
In the 1960s – the decade that consecrated him to the century – he earned his first covers in so-called glamour magazines. Yet his most prized ability remains to go beyond the veneer of glamour to tell what is unseen. Newton narrates the luxury market within suburban settings, dressing up high-fashion industrial warehouses. It is a noncanonical approach that is appreciated by, among others, Versace, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Mugler, Dolce & Gabbana, and Wolford, who one after another call on him to shoot campaigns for their collections. His shots appear in various magazines, including fashion magazines Vogue, L’Uomo Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, GQ, Vanity Fair, Max, and Marie Claire.
Untitled, from the series “Cyberwoman,” c. 2000, lot no. 39 in the catalog Fotografia
A heart attack in 1970 slowed his production but increased his fame, particularly with the 1980 series “Big Nudes,” which marked the pinnacle of his erotic-urban style, supported with excellent photographic technique. If fashion photography is never for Helmut Newton a surface affair, so his is not just fashion photography. There is always, sometimes quietly and sometimes overtly, a commentary on society, a critique of middle-class issues. The women portrayed by Newton are matrons in the figurative sense of ladies endowed with authority: in a society that required them to cover themselves on pain of scandal, Newton eliminates clothing almost entirely and introduces disturbing elements such as handcuffs, leather saddles and whips. Beyond fashion and beauty, Helmut Newton’s is also, documentary photography on the subject of women.
In 1984 together with Peter Max he made the Missing Persons video Surrender your Heart. In October 2003 he donated a collection of photos to the Preußischer Kulturbesitz Foundation in Berlin. It is currently on display at the Museum of Photography (Museum für Fotografie) near the Berlin Zoological Garden station in the Charlottenburg district.
He subsequently lives in Monte Carlo and Los Angeles. He died following a car accident-which occurred in West Hollywood when his Cadillac SRX SUV crashed into a wall of the famous Chateau Marmont (hotel on Sunset Boulevard that had been his residence for years when he lived in Southern California)-at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. His remains were placed in Berlin in the Jewish area of Friedenau Cemetery, and his grave is placed a few feet from Marlene Dietrich’s.