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Book now: Sir Elton John and David Furnish’s private photography collection at the V&A

Soon to open at the V&A, Fragile Beauty offers a rare opportunity to explore over 300 photographs from the couple’s cherished collection

4 April 2024

Ever wondered what hangs on Sir Elton John and David Furnish’s walls? Fragile Beauty, the Victoria and Albert Museum’s upcoming exhibition, spotlights the couple’s favourite pieces, on loan from their private collection of over 7,000 images, many of which will be on public display for the first time.

For this major display of 20th and 21st-century photography, Sir Elton and David curated over 300 rare prints by more than 140 of the world’s leading photographers, making this exhibition the V&A’s largest temporary showing of photography to date.

Fragile Beauty is presented across eight diverse sections, ranging from the glamour of fashion and music, to important themes of persecution, resistance, pivotal periods and movements in history.  

In one section you will find an arresting 1999 image by David LaChapelle of Sir Elton seated at a Formica table – toast and a nebulous piece of music before him – seemingly surprised in the middle of enjoying a cup of tea, looking at the viewer with fried eggs where his eyes should be. It’s a playful example of LaChapelle’s signature subversion and Sir Elton’s flair for the dramatic.

In another section is a beautifully sensitive 1985 self-portrait by Robert Maplethorpe, shot at a time when the HIV epidemic was at its zenith, when fear and panic were rife in New York’s gay community. Another Maplethorpe image from 1988 – that of a sinuously stemmed red poppy – is a reminder of Maplethorpe’s great skill at portraying flora in the most visually intimate terms. It evokes an entirely different mood and underscores the incredible emotive power of photography.

Just a short walk from Sloane Street, the exhibition boasts a monumental installation of 149 Nan Goldin prints from her Thanksgiving series, as well as brand-new acquisitions by Tyler Mitchell, Trevor Paglen and An-My Lê. Other highlights including portraits of Marilyn Monroe, American jazz legends Miles Davis and Chet Baker, as well as iconic fashion images by Horst P. Horst, Irving Penn and Herb Ritts – some of the couple’s very first acquisitions.

Fragile Beauty is produced in partnership with Gucci, which cemented its relationship with Sir Elton after Alessandro Michele became the brand’s creative director in 2015. The two creatives formed a mutual appreciation for one another’s work, with Michele eventually creating a capsule collection inspired by Sir Elton’s most memorable stage outfits for spring/summer 2018. The brand then dressed the singer for his farewell Goodbye Yellow Brick Road tour, which finally wrapped up in 2023, after 333 shows and nearly five years. 

‘Working alongside the [Museum] again has been a truly memorable experience, and we look forward to sharing this exhibition with the public,’ said the couple, who loaned a selection of Horst photographs to the V&A in 2014. ‘Fragile Beauty takes our collaboration [with the museum] to really exciting new heights, showcasing some of the most beloved photographers and iconic images from within our collection.’

Fragile Beauty runs from 18 May 2024 to 5 January 2025; tickets are £20 each, or free for members, and are available now.

V&A South Kensington, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL; vam.ac.uk

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