A new exhibit shows every side of Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn's Children Lend Rare Photo Collection to Exhibition


London's new Audrey Hepburn exhibition has a satisfying symmetry. It opens with snapshots from her childhood in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands, when she gave ballet recitals to raise money for the Resistance — and it closes with a poignant image of her 50 years later, striking a dance pose in Steven Meisel's studio, in what was to be the last major photo shoot of her life.

The show, titled "Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon," opened at the National Portrait Gallery on Thursday — and unsurprisingly, there's no shortage of images to document Hepburn's journey from chorus girl to Hollywood legend. It could easily double as a celebration of the 20th century's greatest photographers, because among the film stills and family snaps are works by Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, Angus McBean, Terry O'Neill, Irving Penn, and Norman Parkinson. A standout piece is Penn's 1951 portrait for Vogue: a close-up shot of Hepburn in black, her face lit up in a smile, which he printed and signed as a gift to the actress. It was taken just as she hit the big time; the magazine wrote that "she has so captured the public imagination and the mood of the time that she has established a new standard of beauty, and every other face now approximates to the 'Hepburn look.'"

Co-curator Terence Pepper, the gallery's senior photography adviser, told the Cut he's been waiting "all my life" to put on the show. "I've done exhibitions on Twiggy, Vivien Leigh, and Marilyn Monroe, and Audrey is more important than any of those," he said. "At the moment, I think she's the most popular Old Hollywood star — so many young people are so interested in her. It's the fashion, the haircut — and her self-deprecation. Some of her films aren't that good, but her performance in every one is worth watching, because her persona comes through."

The exhibition was compiled with the help of Hepburn's sons, Luca Dotti and Sean Hepburn Ferrer, who have a huge archive of photos of their mother. "We had a week in Santa Monica looking at everything, which was just such a treat," said Pepper. The show also covers her later years as a humanitarian. As a young woman in the Netherlands, Hepburn received food and medical relief from UNICEF at the end of the Second World War — and she never forgot it. In 1988 she became a UNICEF International Goodwill Ambassador, and the show includes beautiful photographs of her visiting Somalia and Sudan.

There's also plenty of glamour. Two of Parkinson's most famous images of Hepburn, both taken in 1955, appear in the show: One depicts her in Pucci printed trousers on a farm, her arm thrown around a donkey, and the other in a pink Givenchy dress, surrounded by flowers. In the final room of the exhibition is a wall of magazine covers, spanning 45 years. One of her earliest was a 1951 cover of the British magazine ABC Film Review. "It was for Laughter in Paradise — a film that she's in for about three seconds, playing a cigarette girl," explained Pepper. "She was nothing in the film, but she got the cover — she always shone through."

"Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon" is at the National Portrait Gallery in London until October 18.

Audrey Hepburn's Style Transformation
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A new exhibit shows every side of Audrey Hepburn
January 1950

The stunning Audrey Hepburn, with a classic swept hair style.

(Photo via Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

January 1950

Nautical style for Audrey involves a fun hat and some seriously stylish shades.

(Photo via Pictorial Parade/Getty Images)

May 1950

A young Audrey takes a stroll through Kew Gardens, in a large-print plaid dress.

(Photo via Bert Hardy, Picture Post/Getty Images)

September 1952

Audrey with her fiancee, industrialist James Hanson, wearing a pretty shirt with a high collar.

(Photo via Douglas Miller, Keystone/Getty Images)

January 1953

Audrey poses on a bridge, wearing striped crops and a dark sweater with a peter pan collar.

(Photo via Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

May 1953

Audrey cut into a 'Welcome Home' cake, wearing an impeccable belted dress. She had just arrived back in London after the filming of 'Roman Holiday.'

(Photo via Ben Birkett, Keystone/Getty Images)

October 1953

Audrey signed an autograph book for two young girls on the set of director Billy Wilder's film, 'Sabrina'. Hepburn was wearing a skirt suit designed by Hubert de Givenchy with a hat and hoop earrings.

(Photo via Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

January 1954

Audrey Hepburn touches up her make-up off the set of 'Sabrina.'

(Photo via John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images)

September 1954

Audrey married Mel Ferrer in a beautiful Balmain dress.  The dress had a tea-length skirt and tiny waist, with wide chiffon shoulders to complement her perfectly.

(Photo via Ernst Haas, Getty Images)

November 1954

Audrey modeled this gorgeous patterned dress at an Amsterdam fashion show.

(Photo via Keystone/Getty Images)

January 1955

Audrey literally couldn't look more charming in this photo, playing golf barefoot in a summer dress.

(Photo via Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

May 1966

This looks like a perfect day... Audrey was classically chic in this sweet dress, writing a letter in a palm grove.

(Photo via Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

January 1955

Audrey knew how to rock a robe, too -- we love the fun pattern.

(Photo via Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

January 1955

Audrey browsing through the wardrobe at a photographer's studio, but we're more interested in what she was wearing!  You probably remember this look: a full length red coat dress with a white poodle motif. 

(Photo via Archive Photos, Getty Images)

January 1955

Audrey in a floral-print day dress and sun hat.

(Photo via Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

January 1956

Even when she's casual, Audrey looks chic.  Sitting below the Eiffel Tower in Paris, she's wearing a coat we just need to have... stat.

(Photo via Paramount Pictures/Getty Images)

January 1957

Audrey stands in a park with a poodle and her director Billy Wilder, wearing a shawl with a plaid shirt and shorts. 

(Photo via Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

January 1959

Audrey looking happy with her pet Yorkie, Mr. Famous.

(Photo via Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

June 1961

Possibly the most iconic look of Audrey's, she takes a lunch break while wearing a black dress, gloves and pearls.

(Photo via Keystone Features/Getty Images)

March 1964

Audrey looked impeccable stepping out of a car in this tweed skirt suit.

(Photo via Keystone-France/Getty Images)

August 1965

Audrey looked lovely on stage at the Cinema Festival. 

(Photo via Keystone-France/Getty Images)

January 1969

Audrey chose a shorter, simply sweet dress and head scarf for her second wedding, to psychiatrist Andrea Dotti.

(Photo via Getty Images)

April 1975

Audrey attended the 47th Annual Academy Awards in a sleeveless gown, embellished on top.

(Photo via Ron Galella, WireImage/Getty Images)

December 1981

Audrey in a butterfly-patterned dress, standing with Rob Wolders during the 4th Annual Kennedy Center Honors.

(Photo via Ron Galella, WireImage/Getty Images)

March 1986

Audrey was stunning in this patterned silk dress and coat with matching earrings.

(Photo via Ron Galella, WireImage/Getty Images)

October 1986

Audrey looked stunning during the LIFE 50th Anniversary Gala at Radio City Music Hall.

(Photo via Ron Galella, WireImage/Getty Images)

April 1988

If anyone can rock stripes and polka dots to the Academy Awards, it's Audrey.

(Photo via Ron Galella, WireImage/Getty Images)

November 1988

We love the pop of pink in the shrug Audrey chose to pair with this sleek strapless gown.

(Photo via Ron Galella, WireImage/Getty Images)

January 1989

Holy feathers! Audrey wore this vibrant ensemble to the 8th Annual CDFA Awards.

(Photo via Ron Galella, WireImage/Getty Images)

March 1989

Audrey definitely fell in love with volume in her later years, wearing this material-heavy gown in attendance of the American Film Institute honoring Gregory Peck.

(Photo via Ron Galella, WireImage/Getty Images)

November 1989

Audrey looked positively lovely in polka dots at the International Emmy Awards.

(Photo via Ron Galella, WireImage/Getty Images)

November 1989

Audrey wore this sleek long-sleeved silk gown to the 47th Annual Golden Globe Awards.

(Photo via Ron Galella, WireImage/Getty Images)

October 1990

As a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Audrey walks down a village pathway with Vietnamese "Dao" hill tribe children.  She is wearing an ethnic minority traditional costume given to her by the women of this village in northern Vietnam.

(Photo via Peter Charlesworth, Getty Images)

October 1990

Audrey attended the International Women's Forum in a chic white suit.

(Photo via Ron Galella, WireImage/Getty Images)

April 1991

The Film Society of Lincoln Center honored Audrey Hepburn in 1991, and she absolutely popped in this brightly patterned coat.

(Photo via Ron Galella, WireImage/Getty Images)

November 1991

Audrey Hepburn during the 8th Annual Night of Stars Fashion Festival, wearing bright fuchsia and looking stunning.

(Photo via Ron Galella, WireImage/Getty Images)

October 1992

Audrey wore a similar dress to the Casita Maria Fiesta Benefit, but this one paired bright green with a black and gold embellished top.

(Photo via Ron Galella, WireImage/Getty Images)


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