Bill Brandt and the V&A
Bill Brandt had close and cordial relations with the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Circulation department, which provided loan exhibitions to regional museums and colleges all over the UK, bought 26 of Brandt's nudes in 1965.
In 1975 Brandt accepted an invitation from the V&A to select The Land: 20th Century Landscape Photographs. For a year he worked closely with Mark Haworth-Booth (then of the Circulation department). The exhibition, shown in 1975, introduced British audiences to many classic modern photographers, including a strong showing of Americans: Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Brett Weston, Minor White, Aaron Siskind, Harry Callahan, Eliot Porter and Paul Caponigro, among others - plus fine works by Brandt’s favourite Parisian photographers, Man Ray, Jacques-Henri Lartigue and Brassaï. Twelve of Brandt's own landscapes, chosen by Mark Haworth-Booth, were also included.
The exhibition travelled to national museums and galleries in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh. A book of the show, which Brandt laid out, was edited by Mark Haworth-Booth and published by Gordon Fraser.
In 1978 the V&A bought 201 more photographs by Brandt, representing all phases of his career. These are available for visitors to see through the Museum's Print Room.
There have been important Brandt acquisitions since then, including eight vintage prints donated by Bill Brandt himself in 1980. Brandt disliked his muted earlier (vintage) prints but, as the Museum asked for them for the benefit of photography students, graciously gave examples. These included such photographs as Gull’s Nest, Isle of Skye,1947.
Other gifts include Underground shelter photographs commissioned by the Ministry of Information in 1940 and donated by Sir Fife Clark in 1981, and six early works from Vienna and the Great Hungarian Plain given by Mr and Mrs J.R. Marsh in 1999.
Rolf Brandt donated a portrait of himself, represented as a cinema villain. He played villains, with thick German accents, on television in the 1940s - before, he ruefully said, most people had TV sets.
In 1980 the V&A commissioned new portrait photographs of Ted Hughes and Tom Stoppard by Brandt for an exhibition about literature organised by the National Art Library. Samuel Beckett was on the list but he and Brandt could not agree on a location for the portrait.
In 1983 Mark Haworth-Booth, from 1977 the V&A's Curator of Photographs, worked with Brandt on an exhibition of vintage photographs. Following Bill Brandt's death after a short illness in December 1983, Bill Brandt's Literary Britain became a memorial tribute to the great photographer the following year. The private view served as a memorial service at which Brandt was remembered by friends and admirers including Sir Tom Hopkinson, his editor at Picture Post and Lilliput, Sue Davies OBE, founding director of the Photographers' Gallery, and Sir Roy Strong, director of the V&A. The occasion was described by Mark Haworth-Booth in 'Remembering Bill Brandt', The V&A Album (1984).
A new and revised edition of Literary Britain, edited by Mark Haworth-Booth, was published in 1984 in the UK by the V&A and Hurtwood Press. The book gave details for the first time of Bill Brandt’s birth in Hamburg and apprenticeship in Vienna. It was published in an American edition from Aperture in 1986.
In 2003 the V&A acquired two albums containing some 400 photographs, mainly by Bill Brandt. The albums were compiled in the years 1928-39 by his first wife Eva Boros. They illustrate Brandt's early photographic experiments as he travelled with Eva from Vienna to Hungary, Hamburg, Paris, Barcelona and Madrid before finally settling in London in 1934. These fascinating albums are illuminatingly described by Professor Paul Delany, author of Bill Brandt: A Life (Jonathan Cape, March 2004) in the V&A Magazine for March 2004. A selection of the photographs features in Other Sides of Bill Brandt in the V&A Photography Gallery, 24 March – 25 July 2004.