Magnum Photos Photographer Profile

Herbert List 

German, b.1903, d. 1975 (Estate) 

The pictures I took spontaneously -
with a bliss-like sensation,
as if they had long inhabited my unconscious -
were often more powerful
than those I had painstakingly composed.
I grasped their magic as in passing. ” 


Herbert List was a classically educated artist who combined a love of photography with a fascination for surrealism and classicism. Born into a prosperous Hamburg merchant family, List began an apprenticeship at a Heidelberg coffee dealer in 1921 while studying literature and art history at Heidelberg University. During travels for the coffee business between 1924-28, the young List began to take photographs, almost without any pretensions to art.

In 1930, though, his artistic leanings and connections to the European avant-garde brought him together with the photographer Andreas Feininger, who introduced his new friend to the Rolleiflex, a more sophisticated camera that allowed a deliberate composition of images. Under the dual influence of the surrealist movement on the one hand, and of Bauhaus artists on the other, List photographed still life and his friends, developing his own style. He has described his images as "composed visions where [my] arrangements try to capture the magical essence inhabiting and animating the world of appearances.”

After leaving Germany in 1936 for political and personal reasons, he turned his hobby into a profession. Working in Paris and London, he met George Hoyningen-Huene, who referred him to "Harper's Bazaar". Dissastisfied with the challenges of fashion photography, List instead focused on composing still lifes in his studio. The images produced there would later be compared to the paintings of Max Ernst and Giorgio de Chirico, and paved the way for List's role as the most prominent photographer of the Fotografia Metafisica style.

Greece became List's main interest from 1937 to 1939. After his first visit to the antique temples, sculptures and landscapes, his first solo show opened in Paris in the summer of 1937. Publications in "Life", "Photographie", "Verve" and "Harper's Bazaar" followed, and List began work on his first book, Licht Ueber Hellas, which wasn't published until 1953. Working in Athens, List hoped to escape the war but was forced by invading troops to return to Germany in 1941. Because of his Jewish background, he was forbidden to publish or work officially in Germany. Several works, stored in a hotel in Paris, have been lost.

Portraits of Berard, Cocteau, Honegger and Picasso during a short visit to Paris and a series on the Panoptikum in Vienna characterized List's main work before the war ended in 1945. In 1946, he photographed the ruins of post-war Munich and took the job of art editor of "HEUTE", an American magazine for the German public.

In 1951, List met Robert Capa, who convinced him to work as a contributor to Magnum, but he rarely accepted assignments. He turned his interest towards Italy from 1950 to 1961, photographing everything from street scenes to contemplative photo-essays, from architectural views to portraits of international artists living in Italy. In 1953, he discovered the 35mm camera and the telephoto lens. His work became more spontaneous and was influenced by his Magnum colleague Henri Cartier-Bresson and the Italian Neo-Realism film movement.

Over the next few years, he completed several books, including Rom, Caribia, Nigeria and Napoli, this one in collaboration with Vittorio de Sica.

List more or less gave up photography in the early 1960s. Despite his earlier fame throughout Europe, his particular style was no longer fashionable. By the time he died in Munich in 1975, his work had been almost forgotten. Interest has revived recently, though, thanks to a fine monograph published by Monacelli Press, which features 250 of List's photographs divided into five sections: Metaphysical Photography, Ruins and Fragments, Eros and Photography, Portraits, and Moments.

Herbert List died in Munich, April 4th 1975.


2004 Veiled: The Elusive Oeuvre of Herbert List – Stephen Daiter Gallery, Chicago,
Illinois, USA
2004 Italian Diary: Herbert List – Fahy/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles, California, USA
2003 Retrospektive: Fotografien Herbert List 1930-1966 – Museum Sankt Ingbert,
Ingbert, Germany
2003 Die Retrospektive: Herbert List – Museum im Kulturspeicher Wurzburg, Wurzburg,
2000/02 Herbert List - Fotomuseum im Munchner Stadtmuseum, Munich, Germany;
Hôtel de Sully, Paris, France; Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Köln, Germany;
Fundacio “La Caixa”, Barcelona, Spain; Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg,
Germany; Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, USA; Museo Alinari, Florence, Italy;
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, Montréal, Canada
1996 Biblioteca Nazionale, Turin, Italy; Robert Miller Gallery, New York,
USA; Musee de l’Elysée, Lausanne, Switzerland; Italienisches Kultur-Institute,
Köln, Germany
1995 Fotomuseum im Munchner Stadtmuseum, München, Germany; Palazzo Bagatti-
Valsecchi, Milano, Italy; Goethe-Institute, Roma and Napoli, Italy; Palazzo Rucelai,
Firenze, Italy; Galleria Costa, Genoa, Italy; Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, USA;
Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica, USA; Galleria Photology, Milano, Italy
1994 Romisch-Germanisches Museum, Köln, Germany
1993 Glyptothek, München, Germany; Musée National des Monuments Francais, Paris,
France; PPS Galerie, Hamburg, Germany; Goethe Institute, Athens, Greece
1992 Galerie Zur Stockeregg, Zürich, Switzerland
1991 Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles, USA
1990 Photographic Museum, Helsinki, Finland
1989 Charles Cowles Gallery, New York, USA
1988 Junge Maenner - PPS Galerie, Hamburg, Germany; Fotografie Forum, Frankfurt
1986 Pace MacGill Gallery, New York, USA; Olympus Gallery, Amsterdam,
Netherlands; Palazzo Odeschalchi, Roma, Italy
1985 Chicago Public Library
1983 Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France; Galleria Rondini, Roma,
1982 Galerie Octant, Paris, France
1981 International Center of Photography, New York, USA; Photographers’
Gallery, London, UK; Galleria Il Diaframma, Milano, Italy; Palazzo Odeschalchi,
Roma, Italy
1980 CCD Galerie, Düsseldorf, Germany
1977 Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt, Germany; Kunsthaus, Zürich, Switzerland
1976 Die Neue Sammlung, München, Germany; Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe,
Hamburg, Germany; Kunsthalle, Nuremburg, Germany
1958 Galleria del Óbelisco, Roma, Italy
1942 Galerie Karl Buchholz, Berlin, Germany
1940 Parnassos Galerie, Athens, Greece
1937 Galerie du Chasseur d’Images, Paris, France


2005 Canti dall'Africa, Artificio Skira, Italy
2000 Herbert List - Die Monographie, Schirmer & Mosel, Germany
(Herbert List - Eloges du Beau), Le Seuil, Paris, France;
1995 Memento 1945 - Münchner Ruinen, Schirmer & Mosel, Germany
1995 Italien, Schirmer & Mosel, Germany; (Diario Italiano), Mondadori Editore, Italy
1993 Hellas, Schirmer & Mosel, Germany
1988 Söhne des lichts, Hoffmann & Campe, Germany; (Junge Männer), Twin Palms, USA
1985 Herbert List, Verlag, Germany
1981 Herbert List: Photographs 1930-1970, Rizzoli, USA/Thames & Hudson, UK
1977 Portraits, Hoffmann & Campe, Germany
1972 Martin Mayer (with Hans Konrad Roethel), Karl Thiemig, Germany
1963 Bildwerke aus Nigeria (with William Fagg), Prestel, Germany;
(Nigerian Images), Lund Humphries Publishers, UK
1962 Napoli (with Vittorio de Sica), Sigbert Mohn, Germany
1958 Caribia, Rowohlt, Germany
1955 Rom, Hans Reich, Germany
1953 Licht über Hellas: Aufnahmen aus Griechenland 1937-1941, Georg D.W. Callwey,