George Hurrell: Laguna to Hollywood


Jean Harlow, Frank Cuprien, Bette Davis, Edgar Payne, Walt Disney. © HurrellPhotos.com
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February 24-May 19

“This exhibit is filled with wonderful pictures that encompass Hurrell’s exceptional achievements with angle, light and shadow.” ~ Richard Chang, Orange County Register
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On display on the museum’s upper level was an exhibition of photographs primarily from the permanent collection by noted Hollywood glamour photographer George Hurrell (1904–1992). Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Hurrell studied painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Learning to photograph his paintings spurred an interest in photography as a medium. In 1924 he became friends with Laguna Beach artist Edgar Payne and his wife, Elsie Palmer Payne, who were spending several months in Chicago after returning from a long European sojourn. The following spring, the Paynes motored back to California accompanied by Hurrell. After a short time in Los Angeles, Hurrell moved to Laguna Beach, living for a time in the cottage called “The Paint Box.” He became part of the art community and developed close friendships with artists William Wendt and William Griffith. He began photographing the leading artists of the Laguna Beach Art Association, including Griffith and Wendt, Anna Hills, Thomas Hunt, and Frank Cuprien.
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It was in Laguna Beach that Hurrell met Florence “Pancho” Barnes, who, in turn, introduced him to silent movie star Ramon Novarro. Hurrell’s photographs of Barnes and Novarro caught the attention of Hollywood, and he moved there in 1927. By 1930 he was the head of the MGM portrait gallery. He was soon dubbed the “Grand Seigneur of the Hollywood Portrait.” He established his own studio on the Sunset Strip and later worked for Warner Bros. The museum’s collection contains many Hurrell photographs, including those of the early artists and other prominent people of Laguna Beach, as well as a two portfolios of portraits of Hollywood stars, including John Barrymore, Gary Cooper, Bette Davis, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, and Ann Sheridan. Curated by Janet Blake, curator of early California art, the exhibition presented a selection of over sixty works.
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Support for this exhibition was provided by Irene and George Stern and Drs. Kelly and Jennifer Tucker. Special thanks to Lou D’Elia, Mark Vieira, and HurrellPhotos.com.
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