Madame Yevonde, one of the first feminists, was both an eccentric artist and an established professional photographer
Today we celebrate the work of the trailblazing feminist artist and photographer, Madame Yevonde. Born in London in 1894 to an aristocratic family, she had a unique style of photography which brought to life the exotic beauty of her models.
The English photographer gained both fame and notoriety for her unique artistic approach to portraiture; Yevonde took on many of the prejudices of pre-war society and sought to redefine women’s role in the art world. Her portraits often featured brightly colored backgrounds with an emphasis on vivid palettes, as well as fantastical costumes that expressed her “belief in a woman’s right to dress and be seen however she chose”.
Yevonde’s work often featured classical references, and during her career she adopted stage personas such as Hygeia and Circe which sought to challenge gender stereotypes. She also produced images of society women which highlighted “the strength and confidence of being an independent woman”. This was especially important given that at the time many women were expected to focus their energies on marriage and motherhood instead of pursuing professional careers.
A large part of Yevonde’s creative process involved her creating herself theatrical props, costumes and sets – often introducing elements from her beloved theatre and literature works. She is also said to have played elaborate pranks to encourage “wildness” among both her models and herself.
Though she never identified as a feminist, Yevonde’s contemporaries often spoke about her confidence and completely disregard for societal standards when it came to expressing herself through photography – making her truly one of the earliest feminists in art history. Her works continues to captivate modern audiences who marvel at her extraordinary life and her daring photographs that pushed gender boundaries. Madame Yevonde is an undeniable pioneer: a woman before her time who used photography both as a form of visual expression and as a tool to challenge gender norms.
Although the name Madame Yevonde may not be immediately familiar to many, the pioneering photographer was one of the first wave feminists and played an instrumental role in changing the face of photography.
Born into a well-to-do family in London in 1893, Violet ‘Yevonde’ Cundell soon developed a love for theatre, reading, art and photography. Despite strong opposition from family members, she refused to adhere to traditional gender roles, displaying strong feminist values throughout her life. She soon became known for her progressive views, particularly with regards to the emancipation of women.
Having completed photography studies in Regent Street Polytechnic, Yevonde was quickly recognised as a professional photographer, not just by her peers but also winning commissions from prestigious publications such as Vogue and Tatler. Having established a successful career as a portrait photographer, during the early 1920s she decided to take matters into her own hands and create her own unique style.
Yevonde’s photographic work was often eccentric, often refusing to portray her models in conventional poses. Many of her seated portraits featured goddesses offering an empowering representation of womanhood rarely seen at the time. In addition, Yevonde was passionate about colouring some of her images which were extraordinary in their vibrancy – these vivid colours making them stand out from other photographers’ black-and-white prints.
These eccentric but beautiful works earned Yevonde respect both here in Britain and abroad and placed her at the forefront of portraiture photography. As one of the first feminists and a revolutionary artist, Madame Yevonde remains an iconic figure within photography and remains an inspiration for all aspiring female photographers today.