Ida Kar: Bohemian Photographer, 1908-74

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Portraits by the twentieth-century pioneering photographer Ida Kar are now on display at the National Portrait Gallery.

The exhibition highlights the crucial role played by this key woman photographer at the heart of the creative avant-garde.

With striking portraits of artists such as Henry Moore, Georges Braque, Gino Severini and Bridget Riley, and writers such as Iris Murdoch and Jean-Paul Sartre, this exhibition offers a fascinating insight into the cultural life of post-war Britain and an opportunity to see iconic works, as well as 100 photographs not previously exhibited.

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On display for the first time is a portrait of artist Yves Klein, shown at his first and highly controversial London exhibition in 1957 in front of one of his famous monochrome works, in the distinctive blue-colour he was later to patent as his own.

A portrait of the ‘art strike’ artist and political activist Gustav Metzger - taken at an exhibition entitled Festival of Misfits - is another discovery in an exhibition which partly chronicles 1950s and 1960s Bohemian London society.

A photograph of Royston Ellis, a poet and friend of John Lennon who inspired the song ‘Paperback Writer’ and introduced Lennon to ‘Polythene Pam,’ the subject of the Beatles song, is also on display for the first time. As is one of Kar’s earliest works, a beautiful portrait of the actress and director Sylvia Syms from the beginning of her career in 1953.

Another highlight is a portrait of Dame Maggie Smith on the set of 'The Rehearsal' in 1961 (pictured).

Russian-born, of Armenian heritage, Ida Kar (1908–74) was instrumental in encouraging the acceptance of photography as a fine art when, in 1960, she became the first photographer to be honoured with a major retrospective in London, at the Whitechapel Art Gallery.

She documented conceptualist artists such as Gustav Metzger and John Latham and life in Cuba and Moscow. Featuring unseen archive material, this reappraisal provides a valuable record of the international art world as documented by Kar over three decades while literary subjects exhibited include Doris Lessing, Colin MacInnes and T S Eliot.

Material on display from the photographer’s archive includes over 800 of Kar’s vintage prints, 10, 000 negatives and also letters, a sitters’ book and a portfolio book made in 1954 of her trip to the artists’ studios of Paris.

Ida Kar: Bohemian Photographer, 1908-74 open now at the National Portrait Gallery until 19 June 2011, admission £3