Portrait of the writer Fannie Hurst by the renowned British portrait photographer Dorothy Wilding. Wilding’s style of composition, with strong contrasts of dark and light and simple backdrops that keep the focus on the face, emphasizes Hurst’s boldly androgynous appearance and strong character. A similar photograph of Hurst by Wilding, apparently from the same sitting but with a lighter backdrop, is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London (see references below). It is dated April 25, 1938.
Dorothy Wilding was a British photographer who learned the medium as an apprentice to Bond Street photographer Marian Neilson, and opened her own London studio at age 21. By the late 1920s, she had become a leading society portrait photographer, with a distinctive style characterized by smooth, uncluttered compositions; strong tonal contrasts and skillful lighting. Her clientele included members of the royal family and British aristocracy as well as prominent intellectuals and people in the arts, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, George Bernard Shaw and Noël Coward. In 1937, she became the first woman appointed as the Official Royal Photographer for a coronation, that of King George IV. That year she also opened a second studio in New York, and subsequently traveled back and forth on ocean liners. Wilding took the photographs of both King George IV and Queen Elizabeth II that were used on stamps, currency and banknotes in Britain and countries in the British Commonwealth, including the ubiquitous portrait of Queen Elizabeth appearing on stamps from 1952 to 1967. After retiring from photography in 1957, she published an autobiography, In Pursuit of Perfection the following year. The British National Portrait Gallery has 260 of her portraits in their collection and houses her archives; in 1991 they mounted a major retrospective of her work and published a catalog titled The Pursuit of Perfection.
Fannie Hurst (1889-1968) was an American author of more than 40 novels and short story collections, the first of which was published in 1914. She grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and graduated from Washington University in 1909, continuing her studies at Columbia University in New York. Her subjects were generally working people—shopgirls, immigrants, and boardinghouse dwellers—and in her early writing career, she gained experiences to inform her writing by working at blue-collar jobs in restaurants and sweatshops, as well as making an ocean voyage to Europe in steerage. A number of her stories, including Humoresque, were turned into successful movies, including some from her own screenplays. Among her best-selling novels were Back Street and Imitation of Life. She published an autobiography, Anatomy of Me, in 1958 and was herself the subject of a serious biographical study, Fannie: The Talent for Success of Writer Fannie Hurst by Brooke Kroeger (Times Books: 1999). While Kroeger acknowledges that Hurst’s writing could be sentimental and florid, she had a strong sense of social justice and personal integrity which led her to use her success to help advance the causes of racial equality and women’s rights.
“Dorothy Wilding.” National Portrait Gallery, UK. http://www.npg.org.uk/live/search/person.asp?LinkID=mp07951&role=art (20 August 2004).
“Dorothy Wilding.” Anteque-a-Day. 25 December 2003. http://www.anteques.com/srv/antaday/3487.htm (20 August 2004).
“Fannie Hurst.” Women in American History by Encyclopaedia Brittanica. 1999. http://search.eb.com/women/articles/Hurst_Fannie.html (20 August 2004).
Mangin, Daniel. “Books, Review: Fannie, The Talent for Success of Writer Fannie Hurst.” Salon.com. 17 August 1999. http://www.salon.com/books/review/1999/08/17/kroeger/ (20 August 2004).
“NPG X18684, Fannie Hurst.” National Portrait Gallery, UK. http://www.npg.org.uk/live/search/person.asp?LinkID=mp18182 (20 August 2004)
Symes, Peter. “The Portraits of Queen Elizabeth II as they appear on World Banknotes.” P.J. Symes. 2003. http://www.pjsymes.com.au/QE2/QE2-intro.htm (20 August 2004).