Rochas Mermaid Dress (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), Paris

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Irving Penn
American, 1917–2009

Rochas Mermaid Dress (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), Paris, 1950, printed June 1979

Platinum-palladium print, edition 8/25
50 x 50 cm (image); 63.1 x 56 cm (paper); 66.1 x 56 cm (mount)
Gift of Irving Penn, 1996.237

Copyright Condé Nast Publications, Inc.

In July 1950, Vogue magazine sent Irving Penn to Paris to document that year’s fall couture collections. Over the course of ten days, clothes by Balenciaga, Dior, Rochas, and others were rushed to an old top-floor studio, where Penn posed models against a discarded theater curtain. The resulting photographs, spread across two September issues, marked a stark departure from the elaborately staged sets favored by fashion photographers of the previous decade. Among the models, Lisa Fonssagrives was a standout—in 1949, at age 38, she had become the first model to grace the cover of Time magazine, earning the title “Billion-Dollar Baby.” The statuesque icon first captured Penn’s attention at a 1947 photo shoot, and in the years that followed she became his muse and collaborator. Just a few weeks after this photograph was taken the two were married.

— Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, Gallery 10 Permanent Collection Rotation, May 10-September 28, 2014.

Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, “Irving Penn, A Career in Photography,” November 22, 1997–February 1, 1998; traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia, State Hermitage Museum, March 1–May 16, 1998; Hamburg, Germany, Deichtorhallen, June 18–September 6, 1998; Munich, Germany, Müchner Stadtmuseum, October 6, 1998–February 21, 1999; San Francisco, California, Friends of Photography/Ansel Adams Center for Photography, November 11, 1999–January 23, 2000; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, March 25–June 4, 2000; Paris, France, Maison Européenne de la Photographie, September 13–November 5, 2000. (Colin Westerbeck)

Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, "Paris: Photographs from a Time that Was," August 13–November 6, 2005. (David Travis)

Publication History

Westerbeck, Colin. 1997. “Irving Penn: A Career in Photography.” Exh. cat. Art Institute of Chicago/Bulfinch Press. p. 179, cat. 72.

Travis, David. 2005. "Paris: Photographs from a Time that Was." Exh. cat. Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press. p. 85.

Ownership History

Given by the artist to the Art Institute, 1996.