Magazine article The New Yorker

Penn's Soup

Magazine article The New Yorker

Penn's Soup

Article excerpt

The bowl of bouillabaisse photographed by Irving Penn in Barcelona in 1948 was prepared in a restaurant, Los Caracoles. "Working alone," Penn says, "I placed the bowl on two napkins on the sidewalk outside, exposed by daylight." You can make out the folds in the napkins and even the threads. Most of Penn's still-lifes are assembled in a studio, and, for the last fifty years or so, they have had barely recognizable backgrounds, or none at all. They are painstakingly arranged and lit, and the surfaces are impeccable. The liquid in the bouillabaisse, on the other hand, has slopped around the edges of the bowl a bit. It's messy. Nevertheless, the picture seems painterly. The langoustines and mussels and garlic croutons look composed. Penn doesn't remember arranging the contents of the dish, he says, "although, knowing myself, I may have poked at it." John Szarkowski, in the foreword to Penn's new book, "Still Life," which will be published by Bulfinch in September, compares his work to that of the Spanish painters Zurbaran and Sanchez Cotan. …

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