Anthony Denney, fashion photographer extraordinaire and confidante of Elizabeth David is celebrated in the East London mansion he called home.
From 1947 he was one of Conde Nast’s top photographers. He worked with Vogue, House and Garden and other magazines.
He did the covers for Elizabeth David’s recipe books. These books introduced post-war Britain to the flavours of the Mediterranean. Denney’s images were casual and exuberant, miles away from the staid formalism of today.
Denney luxuriates in colours and textures, stunning details and lovely little things. His images pulsate with a barely disguised sexual tension.
Perhaps taken out of the canon of fashion photographers by the upstart stars of the sixties- Bailey, Donovan and Duffy.
“Anthony Denney was one of Condé Nast’s chief photographers and some of his most recognisable images can be seen in his fashion shoots for British Vogue magazine in the 1950s.
“His design style and iconic photography didn’t just sell products they created a whole aspirational lifestyle for consumers”.
The House as Magazine
The National Trust have (re)designed Rainham Hall as a magazine. Each room takes a theme and explores Denney, his life and styles. It is an innovative approach that allows visitors to dig beneath the building.
Refreshingly, it’s a fluid take on the history of buildings. Far too often, places chose a particular period and remove any later additions as “inauthentic”. Here the 60s style is the story.
As Denney’s furniture and objects were no longer in the house, the Trust worked with local students and craftspeople to redesign pieces. Some objects came from his wife. The effect is powerful. Hinting at what was lost, but creating a house that is both a stage and a home.
“His work is stunning and subtle. The colours stand out from other fashion pages of the time.”
Felice McDowell, associate lecturer in cultural and historical studies at the London College of Fashion.
The Dark Room
The Denney effect is most powerful in the dark room.
In his House in Kensington, he was faced with a room with no natural light so he covered the walls in thick black curtains and lit it only with candles to create an intimate setting for suppers.
The replica room at Rainham, feels more like a private altar with two stylised Egyptian statuettes either side of a central table. Here might be worshipped the goddess Isis or similar.
With the lights low, the effect is unnerving. Today’s Instagram mad generation would gnash their teeth at having to eat in the dark, concentrating only on conversation but in another time and place this was the height of sophistication.
An excellent exhibition. Plan your visit to Rainham Hall today.
Denney never made it to the garden, but it also worth a visit containing classical vases, Japanese sculpture and a sweet mulberry tree.