2024/2025 | Through a Bauhaus Lens: Edith Tudor-Hart and Isokon

Opens Saturday 2nd March 2024 - closes Sunday 26th October 2025. To celebrate the 90th anniversary of the opening of the Isokon Flats, the Isokon Gallery in Hampstead is pleased to announce Through a Bauhaus Lens: Edith Tudor-Hart and Isokon, an exhibition of previously unseen 1933–4 photographs by the Viennese, Bauhaus-trained photographer Edith Tudor-Hart.

Edith Tudor-Hart and Isokon - Through a Bauhaus Lens from Allan Brothers Films on Vimeo.

The recently discovered prints document the historic construction and opening of the Isokon Flats, Britain's first reinforced concrete apartment block. Designed by Canadian architect Wells Coates, and pioneering a new way of living in tiny ‘minimum apartments’, during the 1930s and 1940s, the building was home to an incredible community of left-wing, artists, writers, four Bauhaus masters (Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and László Moholy-Nagy), Agatha Christie and, it later emerged, a community of Soviet spies.

In 1934, Jack Pritchard, the Flats' owner, commissioned Edith Tudor-Hart, newly married and recently arrived from Vienna (where she had joined the Communist party), to photograph the historic construction and grand opening of this pioneering building. He also made introductions which helped launch her photographic career in Britain. But Tudor-Hart had another, secret life. Whilst working as a photographer for publications including The Listener, Picture Post, and Geographical Magazine, she was also a Soviet agent.

In July 1934, at the same time that she was photographing the opening of the Isokon Flats, she helped to recruit Kim Philby for Soviet intelligence. Under MI5 surveillance for decades, the extent of Tudor-Hart's involvement with the Cambridge Five spies has never been fully established, although in his confession of 1964, Anthony Blunt dubbed her “the grandmother of us all”.

Tudor-Hart was thought to have destroyed much of her work, following the exposure of the Cambridge Five. However, a cache of her negatives from the 1930s has recently been discovered at FOTOHOF in Salzburg, where her archive is now held. These include the full series of Isokon photographs. Developing and printing from her full square negatives has revealed the images to be of high quality and full of detailed observations. With her Bauhaus-trained eye, Tudor-Hart’s graphically powerful, almost abstract images of the Isokon Flats, imbued the building with a monumental quality. Nikolaus Pevsner, the leading architectural critic of the time, would later call Wells Coates’ landmark building, “a manifesto” and “a giant’s work. But with her deep social conscience, Tudor-Hart’s Isokon images also include construction workers in flat caps and tweed jackets pouring concrete high above the Hampstead rooftops, or huddled in groups during a tea-break on the building site. This ‘lost’ series of Tudor-Hart's photographs will undoubtedly contribute to scholarship about the photographer as well as knowledge about early Modernist building techniques.

Edith Tudor-Hart’s artistic reputation has soared in recent years, as has interest in her fascinating life story and speculation about her role as a NKVD agent. She has been the subject of a novel, Edith and Kim, an animated feature film, Tracking Edith, and retrospectives of her photographic work have been shown at the Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool, National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh and Tate Britain in London. Yet despite the fascination and continued academic interest, Tudor-Hart remains an enigma.