Best known perhaps for her performance as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffanies, the exhibition Portraits of an Icon offers an insight into the life and work of Audrey Hepburn that’s unexpectedly moving.
Audrey Hepburn was never just an actress, never just a model – as the images reveal, she was a spirited, curious, caring individual, who began her career as a ballet dancer raising money for the Dutch Resistance in World War II, and spent her final years working as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador working in poor communities in Africa. In between came glitz, glamour and decades as a muse to couturier Hubert de Givenchy, but, as this exhibition shows, her beauty always far more than skin deep.
Housed within Cheltenham’s splendid art gallery and museum, The Wilson, the images on show are accompanied by information on what was happening in Audrey’s life at the time each shot was taken, and includes less famous pictures, many of which capture moments of whimsy and apparent happiness. My favourites were those showing her relaxing at her rental villa in Italy with Bimba the donkey or grocery shopping with Pippin the fawn, suggesting that at heart Audrey was a country girl as at home in wellies and jeans as in a stunning red carpet gown.
As photographer Mark Shaw is quoted as saying: “Audrey is the most childish, adult, feminine tomboy I’ve ever photographer… She’s many women wrapped up in one…”
As she aged, the photos displayed reveal that Audrey’s attractiveness only intensified. There’s a genuine kindness in her eyes that makes it easy to understand why people from all backgrounds were drawn to her, a detail particularly evident in images caught towards the end of her life in Sudan and Somalia by Robert Wolders.
Along with many others, I discovered Audrey Hepburn through films like Breakfast at Tiffanies and Roman Holiday, and entrancing as these performances were, it’s clear there was far more to this woman. This exhibition is a wonderful reminder of that.