Ida Kar photographer
Ida Kar, came to my attention becuase I had researched about Barbara Hepworth, the famous Sculptor for my last blog . Ida Kar was born in 1908, in Tambov, near Moscow. Kar was influenced by the Paris avant-garde movement, whilst studying there in 1928. She had met the German surrealist painter and photographer Heinrich Heidersberger whilst living there, and made her very first experiments in photography alongside him.
Through Heidersberger, Kar also met a wide range of artists and writers living on the Left Bank (La Rive Gauche). After a move to Cairo to establish her first photographic studio with her husband Edmond Belali, Kar exhibited surrealist photography in the Egyptian capital. Following a divorce from Belali, Kar met and married the British writer, artist, and publisher Victor Musgrave. In 1945, Kar and Musgrave moved to London, setting up a studio, and working for a number of galleries in the city. Commissions from magazines such as Tatler followed, and Kar’s reputation grew. In 1960 Ida Kar became the first photographer to have a retrospective exhibition at a major London art gallery.
“An artist is an individual who may be influenced by another artist but never copies him. For instance, I have been strongly influenced by Man Ray but I never copied him,” Ida Kar
Despite receiving public and critical acclaim from her contemporaries, Ida Kar remains
surprisingly little known. Ida Kar was instrumental in encouraging the acceptance of photography as a fine art. Her subjects were the most celebrated figures from the literary and artistic spheres of 1950s and 1960s Europe and Russia. They include artists such as Henry Moore, George Braque, Gino
Severini and Bridget Riley and writers such as Iris Murdoch and Jean-Paul Sartre.
In 1999 the National Portrait Gallery purchased the complete surviving Ida Kar Archive, which
comprises eight hundred photographic prints, ten thousand negatives, four hundred vintage
contact prints, exhibition catalogues, correspondence, press cuttings and the ownership of Ida
To see work by these photographers in the National Portrait Gallery Collection and over 1000
works by Ida Kar now catalogued see view National Portrait gallery website
Kar’s most noted photographs are of
Yves Klein (1928 – 1962) was a French artist, most commonly associated with his
monochrome paintings in International Klein Blue (IKB), a colour he was able to patent. In
this image, Ida Kar has photographed Klein next to one of his sponge sculptures at his first UK
exhibition, at her husband Victor Musgrave’s Gallery One in London. The exhibition
Monochrome Propositions of Yves Klein included paintings and sculpture, all made with the
The sponge behind Klein in this image would have been used as a tool to make
the larger paintings on display, and is soaked in the paint. Klein saved these sponges, and
mounted them on stones found in his parent’s garden. “Thanks to the sponges – living, savage material – I was able to make portraits of the readers of my monochromes who, after having seen, after having travelled in the blue of my paintings, come back totally impregnated in sensibility like the sponges’ – Yves Klein.
Bridget Riley (born 1931) is an artist associated with ‘op-art’ in the early 1960s. Her early
work was influenced by impressionism and pointillism, and was focused on depictions of
landscape. She evolved a style from this work that explored the use of optics and optical
illusion, hence ‘op-art’. The work was often unsettling or disorientating, using finely modulated
passages of black and white in the early 1960s, and later with colour. Many paintings use a
curve to give the appearance of a surface in flux, such as Fall, 1963, from the Tate collection.
This painting was purchased from her exhibition at Victor Musgrave’s Gallery One exhibition in
1963. When discussing this work, Riley has said:
“I try to organise a field of visual energy which accumulates until it reaches maximum
Kar was also a revolutionary and could often be spotted in the “Speaker’s Corner” in Hyde Park, talking about different issues, among them prostitution. Refusing to compromise, she never worked for the fashion and advertising industries, but produced iconic portraits and reportages as well.
Ida Kar in one form or another would be called an over the top photographer in this day and age, as the ‘60s moved on, and despite more and more opportunities brought about by increasing exposure in magazines like Tatler and Vogue, and the ripple effect of the Whitechapel show, Kar became mentally unstable. This might have been exacerbated when she and Musgrave regularly lived apart, but by the later 1960’s she was having residential psychiatric treatment. Living alone in a bedsit she carried on taking photographs and became obsessive about her Armenian heritage, regularly attending the St. Sarkis Orthodox Church in Kensington. She died alone of a cerebral haemorrhage on Christmas Eve, 1974, a cause that may well explain her extreme psychological disorders of those later years.
In 1999 the National Portrait Gallery in London acquired her remaining archive, a substantial holding of some 800 prints and over 10,000 negatives, 400 vintage contact sheets, and related ephemera. The NPG is in the process of making these images available on line.