Inspirations, Focus


On the third floor of the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, her personality is magnified through an extraordinary collection of photos taken by the greatest photographers, Horst. P Horst, Irving Penn, Louise Dahl-Wolfe and Erwin Blumenfeld – all between 1935 and 1958. “My beloved mother,” as Tom Penn, her only son, likes to say. He suggested this project to the Museum and donated some of the images. Lisa Fonssagrives was first and foremost a multi-faceted personality, whose body and allure embraced all fashions without ever submitting to them. In a swimsuit on the beach, or hidden behind a mask, in a neo-classical draped dress by Madame Grès or a surrealist ensemble by Elsa Schiaparelli, she is unique, inimitable. So what is there in common between the Lisa Fonssagrives dancing in a field photographed by André Steiner in 1936, and the divine woman with her hieratic face veiled in chiffon, so majestic in a Balenciaga “Cocoa dress” immortalised by Irving Penn?  The answer undoubtedly lies in the meaning she gave to the body, which became her instrument, the source of an extraordinary expression, that of a true artist. 

“My whole experience is linked to dance. I started out dancing, and I fully devoted myself to it. As a model, I considered my poses as frozen dance movements,” she asserted. Born Lisa Anderson in 1911 in Uddelva, Sweden, she began her career by discovering museums and teaching art, before opening a dance school in Stockholm. In 1936, in Paris, she met Willy Maywald in a lift and posed for a series of hats published in Vogue.  She became the first supermodel in history, posing for over 200 covers (Vogue, Harper's Bazaar) for 20 years. This is an extraordinary exhibition to see again and again, as the woman who married Irving Penn in 1947 is still held in cult status.  In 1949, she was even featured on the cover of Time magazine. More than just a muse, she established herself as a figure of the 21st century, moving from the status of model to that of fashion designer, artist and, to complete her flight, pilot. She was known as Million Dollar Baby. A lover of life and beauty, her name will shine forever. 

 Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn - Fashion Icon", from 28 February to 26 May.