Rare colour works by Francesca Woodman revealed in new show

The late, great woman artist, best-known for her black-and-white imagery, also produced some full-colour photos
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As with many late artists, we may feel as if we have a good handle on the work of Francesca Woodman. Born into a family of artists, “Woodman expanded the family’s artistic tradition through her black-and-white photography,” explains our book, Great Women Artists. “Moving back to her parents after a failed suicide attempt in 1980, she took her own life the following year aged just twenty-two, leaving behind a prolific body of work and at least 10,000 negatives.”

This month, that perception of Woodman’s work will change, with an exhibition of colour photographs she shot in New York from 1979–80. Though the colours are a revelation, the image compositions are remarkably classical, and remain very much in keeping with Woodman’s better-known work. As her gallery, Victoria Miro, notes: “Woodman contorts and inserts her body into space and architecture, at times even ‘performing’ classical sculpture in ways likely influenced by her year abroad in Rome while a student at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Francesca Woodman Untitled, New York, 1979 Estate digital c-print 20.3 x 25.4 cmn 8 x 10 in © Woodman Family Foundation. Courtesy Woodman Family Foundation and Victoria Miro
Francesca Woodman Untitled, New York, 1979 Estate digital c-print 20.3 x 25.4 cmn 8 x 10 in © Woodman Family Foundation. Courtesy Woodman Family Foundation and Victoria Miro

“One of the key influences of Italian art on Woodman’s work was in her precise use of composition, which became more sophisticated during her time in Rome. She explored perspective and consciously used formal strategies learnt from her study of Florentine masters, particularly Giotto and Piero della Francesca, and classical sculpture. As she wrote from New York in 1980 to Edith Schloss, Rome-based friend, painter and critic: ‘It’s funny how while I was living in Italy the culture there didn’t affect me that much and now I have all this fascination with the architecture, etc.'"

We can all mourn how short-lived this fascination truly was, while perhaps also revelling in the way in which a new spectrum of colour lives on in her work. For more on the exhibition, which runs at Victoria Miro’s Venice gallery (and can also be viewed online) go here; for more on her place within great female artistry, get Great Women Artists, and for an in-depth look at her work, consider our Francesca Woodman monograph.


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