Florence Henri. Still Life Composition. 1932. Gelatin silver print, 9 1/4 × 10 13/16" (23.5 × 27.4 cm). Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther

“I do not claim to be able to explain the world or to explain my own thoughts.”

Florence Henri

“With photography, what I really want to do is compose the image, as I do in painting,” the artist Florence Henri has said about her artistic approach. “The volumes, lines, shadows and light should submit to my will and say what I would like them to say. All of this under the strict control of the composition, because I do not claim to be able to explain the world or to explain my own thoughts.” 1

Henri started her career as a pianist and then trained as a painter at the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany (where she studied with Paul Klee and Vasily Kandinsky), and at the Académie Moderne in Paris (with Fernand Léger). She painted in an abstract style and often combined collage elements in her work (see Black-White-Silver No. 11 and Construction bleu-rouge-noir. These early works referenced Cubism, Purism, and Constructivism, art movements that Henri was well attuned to from her studies and travels in Europe.

Henri turned to photography after spending a semester at the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany, in 1927. Even though photography wasn’t introduced into the curriculum until 1929, it had already been used on campus for documentary, publicity, and experimental purposes for years. Henri’s professor, László Maholy-Nagy said, “With Florence Henri’s photos, photographic practice enters a new phase, the scope of which would have been unimaginable before today…. Reflections and spatial relationships, superposition and intersections are just some of the areas explored from a totally new perspective and viewpoint.” 2

Though photography is a medium that uses light to capture the surfaces of physical objects, she manipulated light and manipulated objects to create a dialogue between realism and abstraction. Henri frequently experimented with mirror, angling them to create surreal still lives and self-portraits marked by spatial ambiguity. She also manipulated her images via photomontage, multiple exposures, and negative printing. This experimental work exemplified the New Vision movement (a term coined by Moholy-Nagy), and it earned its place on the walls of the prominent international photography exhibitions of the time, including Fotografie der Gegenwart (1929), Film und Foto (1929), and Das Lichtbild (1930).

In 1929, Henri established her own successful studio in Paris, and she taught photography to artists such as Gisèle Freund and Lisette Model. During the Nazi occupation, photographic supplies became difficult to acquire, and Henri’s experimental style was in danger of being deemed “degenerate” by the regime. Henri returned to painting, but it was her photographs, taken mainly between 1927 and 1940, that left lasting impressions on her contemporaries and later generations alike.

Jane Pierce, Carl Jacobs Foundation Research Assistant, Department of Photography

  1. Colombo, Attilio. Interview with Florence Henri in Florence Henri (Milan: Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri, 1983).

  2. Moholy-Nagy, László. “Zu den Fotografien von Florence Henri,” i10 No. 17-18, December 20, 1928.

Wikipedia entry
Florence Henri (28 June 1893 – 24 July 1982) was a surrealist artist; primarily focusing her practice on photography and painting, in addition to pianist composition. In her childhood, she traveled throughout Europe, spending portions of her youth in Paris, Vienna, and the Isle of Wight. She studied in Rome, where she would encounter the Futurists, finding inspiration in their movement. From 1910 to 1922, she studied piano in Berlin, under the instruction of Egon Petri and Ferrucio Busoni. She would find herself landlocked to Berlin during the first World War, supporting herself by composing piano tracks for silent films. She returned to Paris in 1922, to attend the Académie André Lhote, and would attend until the end of 1923. From 1924 to 1925, she would study under painters Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant at the Académie Moderne. Henri's most important artistic training would come from the Bauhaus in Dessau, in 1927, where she studied with masters Josef Albers and László Moholy-Nagy, who would introduce her to the medium of photography. She returned to Paris in 1929 where she started seriously experimenting and working with photography up until 1963. Finally, she would move to Compiègne, where she concentrated her energies on painting until the end of her life in 1982. Her work includes experimental photography, advertising, and portraits, many of which featured other artists of the time.
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Getty record
She was Swiss, but born in New York of a French father and German mother. She spent her childhood in Paris, Vienna, and the Isle of Wight. She came into contact with the Futurists in Rome, and in Berlin she studied the piano with Egon Petri. In 1927 Henri studied painting and photography under László Moholy-Nagy at the Bauhaus, (Dessau, Germany). In 1928 Henri moved to Paris where she established a studio where she practiced advertising and portrait photography. She also taught photography in Paris until 1963, when she abandoned photography for painting.
Swiss, American, Parisian, French, German, Stateless
Artist, Teacher, Painter, Photographer
Florence Henri
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


12 works online



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