You are here

Yousuf Karsh: Regarding Heroes

January 22, 2009–April 26, 2009
Galleries 1–4

Yousuf Karsh’s portraits are instantly recognizable. Ernest Hemingway, Georgia O’Keeffe, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, and Marian Anderson, true visual icons of the 20th century, each sat before his photographic lens. 

This master portraitist, however, came from humble beginnings. As a teenager the Armenian Karsh fled his native Turkey to live first in Syria and then in Canada with his photographer uncle. Always connected with traditional photographic methods, he honed his skills first as an apprentice in Boston from 1928 to 1931 and then in his own studio in Ottawa from 1932 until 1992. In 1941, his portrait of Winston Churchill immediately earned him an international reputation. The image exemplified “the roaring lion” standing alone against the fascists that had overrun continental Europe. His fame was further enhanced with state commissions of political and military leaders during WWII, and his renown continued to skyrocket after the war and through the early 1960s when he began adding writers, actors, artists, musicians, scientists, statesmen, and celebrities to his portfolio of accomplished individuals.

To mark the centenary of his birth, this retrospective will display Karsh’s best portrait subjects in the prints he himself preferred.  The 100 photographs in the exhibition are drawn from a set of over 200 master prints given to the museum as a promised gift by his widow, Estrellita Karsh. 


The exhibition’s fully illustrated catalogue, written by exhibition curator David Travis and issued by Boston publisher David R. Godine, traces Karsh’s artistic development and reassesses his place in the history of photography.


This exhibition is funded in part by the generous support of the Community Associates of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Yousuf Karsh. Sir Winston Churchill, 1941. Estrellita Karsh, promised gift to the Art Institute of Chicago. © Estate of Yousuf Karsh.