20th Century British Art
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Ira L. Hill (1877-1947)

Ira L. Hill opened his New York Studio the same year that Florenz Ziegfeld first staged his Follies-1907. Both would enjoy a gradual ascent to preeminence in their fields. Hill, offspring of a patrician Virginia family and a man of charm and energy, became the foremost Society photographer of Manhattan by 1910, the first call camera artist for publications such as Town & Country. He invested deeply in the painted backdrops for his sittings, hiring New York’s best scenic artists from the opera and theater to supply echt-English Gainsborough groves. For a modern note, he constructed a window seat in the latest style, and used electric lamps to emulate a sunny world beyond the window glass. The idea was picked up by other studios—particularly George Moffett’s in Chicago.

In the 1910s, whenever Ziegfeld wanted to lend luster to a talented young woman considered for elevation to featured status in his productions, he would dispatch her to Hill’s studio. Because his prices were the steepest in New York City, Ziegfeld did not use Hill for general publicity, or contract him to do production work. Rather, he was hired for ‘personality portraiture’—images highlighting the special radiance of a woman. Hill did not use the soft focus atmospheres of the art photographers, or the Rembrandt lighting that the early glamourists employed. Rather, he fashioned images of privilege—rural otium, or great house holiday. He preferred full length portraits in fancy dress, and so became one of the favorite fashion photographers of the second decade of the 20th century.

Ziegfeld used him until back paintings seemed old-fashioned—circa 1923. Hill, however, remained the foremost Society portraitist in the city until his death in 1947

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