Untitled (Le Baiser Mysterieux)

Bill Brandt

Untitled (Le Baiser Mysterieux)

Vintage Gelatin Silver Print

25.1 x 14.9 cms (9.86 x 5.86 ins)

1934

HC 10943

Provenance

The Estate of Bill Brandt
Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York

Photographer's "Photo Bill Brandt" and "58, Hillfield Court" stamps on verso.

This extraordinary vintage photograph from the Estate of Bill Brandt appears to be previously unrecorded. It is one of two known prints.

Brandt would often transform his photographs by flipping his negatives to provide a mirror image, change the cropping of a picture, print it in different ways and embellish the print with pencil, ink etc.

This abstract tour de force shows a number of these features at their most dramatic: it is a reversed, enlarged detail of the central aspect of one of Brandt's most celebrated photographs of the 1930s. The effect of these changes is so dramatic as to almost completely obscure its relationship to the known published images.

In the first published version, the picture appears in Brandt's second book A Night in London (1938), where it is titled Top Floor. In this version a man and women stand, full length, beneath mistelotoe and, as is traditional, kiss. Then in the better known second version, published in Shadow of Light in 1966, the mistletoe is removed and the new title is Soho Bedroom. Now the meaning of the scene of a couple embracing in front of a bed in Soho takes on an altogether less innocent connotation. Since Soho was synonymous with prostitution we are led to assume that the subject is a prostitute and her client.

However in the unpublished vintage print in the Hyman Collection, a genre scene that began innocently and became illicit now goes even further. We are no longer aware of clothing or setting. Instead the subject becomes a sensual scene of intimate contact. The foreground hand emphasises touch and feeeling and closeness and what is in fact an arm and an elbow read more like a back and a shoulder. Two naked figures make love in the dark.

The darkness anticipates Brandt's depiction of the nocturnal streets of London which in the wartime blackouts were lit only by moonlight, whilst the mounded abstracted body parts preceed Brandt's engagement with the body in his celebrated later nudes.

By presenting the figures emerging from darkness Brandt also directly echoes a convention found in French erotic postcards and in doing so encapsulates the way in which Brandt's first photographs of London saw him transpose what he had learnt in Paris to a new national context. Specifically, issue 3/4 of the lavish french surrealist journal, Minotaure, reproduced an image entitled Le Baiser Mysterieux, whose imagery and title directly prefigures that of Brandt. It is highly likely Brandt would have known this publication given the fact that he was mixing in the surrealist circle around Man Ray, for whom he briefly worked as a studio assistant, and the fact that the folowing year the jouranl published his own work (issue 6). But the image and caption were also widely popular in France and numerous such images are known. However, by cropping so tightly, in this enlarged close-up, all sense of clothing is removed making the image even more sexual.


Copyright The Bill Brandt Archive, London / Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York / Zürich. 2018

British Photography / The Hyman Collection

Bill Brandt

Untitled (Le Baiser Mysterieux)

Vintage Gelatin Silver Print

25.1 x 14.9 cms (9.86 x 5.86 ins)

1934

HC 10943

All images © the artist or copyright holder | Website © The Hyman Collection 2019