Glamour of the Gods – Hollywood Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery

Elizabeth Taylor, 1948 by Clarence Sinclair Bull © John Kobal Foundation, 2011

A few grams of finesse and sophistication in today’s world of overexposed insipid starlets. Nearly 70 vintage photographs spanning 40 years of Hollywood history are currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery. Of course we know that behind these perfect, god-like portraits, were not-so-perfect lives, scandals and horrid stories, but looking as the polished images of Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Vivien Leigh, Audrey Hepburn, Rock Hudson, Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe and many others instantly brings us back into the glamour of Hollywood’s golden age, where everything looked like luxury, calm and voluptuousness.

This unique exhibition also highlights the high level of control the studios had over the images of the stars they represented, sending them all over the world to fans and magazines, and ensuring they were deeply infused with some sort of mystique, making the actors look like modern gods carrying without fail the mythology of Hollywood.

Most of the photographs on display are vintage prints from the archive of the John Kobal Foundation. John Kobal started collecting film photographs in the 1950s, and as he sought to understand the role of photography in the Hollywood legend, his interest rapidly shifted to the photographers behind the portraits. His archive work has been internationally recognized over the years, and he played for sure a major role in the revival of interest in the great Hollywood portrait photographers’ work.  Film critic Donald Lyons once said: “To me John was the Claude Levi-Strauss of glamour. He meticulously collected its thousand-and-one stories and images, and laboriously erected out of them cathedrals full of light and life and wisdom and humanity.”

Laurie Guillem

Glamour of the Gods – Hollywood Portraits / National Portrait Gallery, London / 7 July – 23 October 2011 / For further information please visit

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