Karsh Signature

Yousuf Karsh, master photographer of the 20th century

The World of Yousuf Karsh: A Private Essence

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, Canada, 2021

Exhibition organized by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and curated by Hilliard T. Goldfarb, Senior Curator, Collections and Curator of Old Masters, MMFA.

Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh was indisputably one of the greatest portraitists of the 20th century. Over the course of more than half a century, his lens captured not only the idealized essences of his subjects, but their true individual characters as well. His unforgettable, enduring, poignant images speak of empathy and embrace the whole of humanity. Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of the artist’s wife, Estrellita Karsh, the MMFA is the grateful recipient of 111 pristinely preserved photographs. Among these gelatin silver prints, most of which are in large formats, are many rare prints, meticulously developed by the artist himself.

The exhibition features renowned images of political figures, including Fidel Castro, Winston Churchill, William Lyon Mackenzie King, Nelson Mandela, Eleanor Roosevelt and Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Adding to them are Karsh’s compelling portraits of influential figures of theatre, film, music, the visual arts and literature, as well as outstanding scientists and spiritual leaders of the 20th century. A Private Essence also displays Karsh’s immortalized images of the cowboys, farmers, steelworkers and icons of culture and artistic achievement who embody the integrity of the Canadian spirit.

The exhibition traces the chronology of the artist’s life and stylistic development and the evolving world history he so brilliantly documented. Many photographs are accompanied by short texts quoting from the artist’s own recorded impressions and thoughts on his subjects during his sessions.