George Daniell


From The Hudson River to the World

Photographic Portraits of George Daniell

George Daniell, an outstanding artist of international stature, born and raised in Yonkers, is the focus of this website and a compelling estate.

A considerable amount has been written about the importance of Daniell's photographic portraits. In a The New York Times feature in 2001, Bruce Weber, a leading fashion photographer and film maker said, "I have always loved Daniell's photographs. They have a spark and a sense of humor that is very human. That is what I really felt strongly about when I stumbled on his wonderful gems of photographs."

The following year Weber republished 16 of Daniell's historic 1930s Yonkers. Hudson River portraits in his book, All American Stories which created a flurry of interest in this period of Daniell's work, of which six are in the Exhibition.

Daniell met Georgia O.Keeffe, in the 1940s at Alfred Stieglitz's "An American Place" Gallery in New York and visited her Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. ."Besides Stieglitz, of course" O.Keeffe said of her friend, "George Daniell is one of my favorite photographers."

"In 2006 and 2007 Daniell's portraits of O.Keeffe appeared in two exhibitions and the published catalogues organized by the Portland Museum of Art, Georgia O. Keeffe and the Camera- The Art of Identity and Both Sides of the Camera.

Another friend Daniell met in Stieglitz's Gallery was John Marin, one of the best known American landscape painters of his time. Daniell who photographed Marin at his homes in Cliffside, New Jersey and Cape Split, Maine, was described by Marin as having "that rare quality, the true eye of an artist."

Sixty years later, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. featured many of these photographs in a major 1991 retrospective of John Marin's work.

In addition to these museum exhibitions, over the years Daniell has been the focus of numerous one man art gallery shows and has had work acquired and included in exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy of Art, the Bowdoin College Museum, the Colby College Museum, and in an Edward Steichen exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.

Last year the ClampArt Gallery in New York City mounted a retrospective of Daniell's work. The response was enthusiastic. A good number of the photographs were purchased by young collectors who found in Daniell's work the same youthful vitality Bruce Weber described.

Speaking to the vigorous career of Daniell right up to the end of his life and beyond, April Gallant, Curator of Photography, the Portland Museum of Art, remarked, "I think the time has always been right to look at what George Daniell has achieved. He is a great American photographer."

Daniell's Roots in Yonkers

George Daniell was born in Yonkers, New York on May 4, 1911 with a twin brother who died at birth and was raised as an only son there at 149 Glenwood Avenue. He had an adoring mother who he adored in return, and a hard working, remote father who committed suicide dramatically before the entire family at a Sunday lunch.

As Daniell tells it, his was an early life of deep blacks and whites and very likely the reason he was so drawn to cinematic black and white portraiture which sometimes have the feel of movie stills. He died in Bar Harbor, Maine, September 14, 2002.

At first there were youthful shots of his family at home in the mid-1920s. After graduation from Yale University in 1934 he created a darkroom in the cellar and in a small spare room on the third floor. Eventually, sympathetic neighbors let him use a large loft over their king size garage to do his photography.

Around this time he started photographing along the banks of the Hudson River in and around Yonkers where in summer there were plenty of fishermen and bathers willing to pose. He also went farther afield to Glen Island, Jones Beach and Fire Island.

This was when the period began when both his fascination with the water and figures on the beach, and the drive to portray people at their best, as he wrote in his memoir "to capture beauty before it faded".

A short time later as a freelance photographer in New York City his desire to see the world grew and he set out on his journey to pursue more intensely new images and inhabitants across the country and around the world. Over his 60 year career Daniell was to travel and photograph around the world twice.

Portraits: A Democratic Vision and the Culture of Celebrity

Art critic Carl Little ascribes to Daniell a democratic vision. He points out that among his strongest images of humanity are photographs he took in 1938 of herring fishermen on Grand Manan Island, off the coast of New Brunswick in Canada, some of which are included in the Exhibit.

Both the Hudson River and Grand Manan photographs were taken in the depths of the Great Depression. Yet, as Carl Little points out, these photographs have a pleasant, healthy, lively quality.

Even though the subjects are living in difficult circumstances, Daniell conveys their dignity and hope. He managed in these photographs to achieve the same sense of nobility Marsden Hartley realized in his masterful portrait series of a Nova Scotian fishing family he painted during the same period.

In addition to his large body of work with river and water motifs, Daniell is also recognized for his celebrity photographs of artists, writers and people in the theatre. These are photographs, as Robert Newman described, "as sometimes starkly dramatic, and at other times, mistily reflective, and disarmingly nostalgic and melodic."

In addition to Georgia O. Keeffe and John Marin, he did portraits of Audrey Hepburn, W. H. Auden, Lena Horne, Tennessee Williams, Anita Eckberg, 10 year old Robert De Niro, Bernice Abbott, Lena Horne, Edith Hamilton, and D. H. Lawrence's three women, Mabel Dodge Luhen, Lady Dorothy Britt and Freida Lawrence, among many others.

Italy in 1955

Daniell's extraordinary 1950s photographs taken on movie sets of Cinecetti Studios of movie stars and the streets and the countryside of devastated postwar Italy combine both his democratic vision and his celebration of the culture of the celebrity. These were among his most favorite photographs which he had hoped someday to publish as a book.

Daniell had fallen in love with Italy: its food, warmth and beauty. In 1955 when King Vidor's War and Peace was being filmed at Cinecetti on the Appian Way, he photographed Audrey Hepburn and her husband, Mel Ferrer.

At the next lot he photographed the struggling not-yet known, Sophia Loren who spoke no English. For unspoiled, blooming beauty, he said, "I have never seen an equal and wish I could have told her so in Italian." Daniell's extremely popular portraits of Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren are in the Exhibit.

Daniell made a telling photograph of himself in his mid-twenties which greets visitors as they enter the Exhibit in the Yonkers Room at the Library.

Art critic Carl Little sees in the photo a tall, young man full of confidence. His eyes fixed on the camera with the accouterments of a portrait photographer surrounding him. In Daniell's half smile, crossed arms and sure stance, Daniell tells us, he is ready to expand his vision beyond the Hudson River and take on the world.

And what a joy it is to behold George Daniell's refinement of that vision in his sixty year journey which began and was nurtured in Yonkers.

In September 2008 an exceptionally engaging collection of George Daniell's work was in an exhibition, sponsored by the Yonkers Historical Society, From the Hudson River to the World: Photographic Portraits, George Daniell, 1939s-1950s, at the Yonkers Public Library

Professor James J. Shields, CUNY, Curator originally put together this biography for the exhibit in Yonkers. It's been edited to fit within the context of the George Daniell web site. We appreciate James for giving us his consent.