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Come and see Ali, Churchill and O’Keeffe

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On the bench: Tom Butterfield enjoys the company of Mark Twain while viewing a portrait of artist Georgia O’Keeffe, taken by Yousuf Karsh in 1956, which is part of a 10th anniversary exhibition at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Images of three cultural icons taken by one of the world’s greatest portrait photographers are now being shown together in Bermuda.

Prints showing boxer Muhammad Ali, British Second World War Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and American artist Georgia O’Keeffe have been included in a 10th anniversary exhibition at Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art.

The portraits are all by Yousuf Karsh, an Armenian-born Canadian whose work is featured in some of the world’s most prestigious galleries.

The image of Ali, in which the boxing legend glares at the camera with clenched fists resting on his hips, was gifted by the photographer’s wife this year and has been unveiled to mark Masterworks’ decade in its Botanical Gardens home. Alongside it sits the portrait of Churchill in one of photography’s best known images, as well as another of O’Keeffe.

Tom Butterfield, the Masterworks founder and creative director, said: “Each one of them is strikingly different to the other.

“What I like about the trio is that it is evidence of Karsh’s interest in people not just from politics, arts or sport but he has definitive figures of all three in their own field.”

Karsh was born in Armenia in 1908 but took refuge in Canada 16 years later after his family fled Turkish genocide in their homeland.

He achieved international acclaim for the 1941 image of Churchill — which appeared on the cover of Life magazine — and went on to photograph scores of dignitaries and celebrities including the Queen and Martin Luther King Jr.

Karsh came to Bermuda in 1948 and his three subjects featured in the Masterworks exhibition have also all visited the island, which inspired some of O’Keefe’s finest works.

The photographer died, aged 93, in 2002 and his wife, Estrellita, gifted the portraits to the museum over the past five years.

Mr Butterfield said displaying the images together offered “a sense” of how Karsh used studio light.

He continued: “When you have mastered your medium, you are a star.

“If you look at his prints they are rich, they are lush, the lighting is precise, there is nothing out of order in the portraits he does.”

Masterworks, a non-profit organisation, opened its anniversary exhibition last week as it welcomed a rare print of a watercolour by Charles, Prince of Wales, which is on show and will later be auctioned.

The gallery moved into a purpose-built venue in the Botanical Gardens in Paget in 2008 after 21 years of being a “nomadic collection”.

Mr Butterfield said: “The idea that we are still collecting, still collaborating, still making a mark culturally in our great treasures and finds, I think is what this is all about.

“Mrs Karsh just wants to add to it. We don’t have to pay a dime, it’s just a generous outright gift.”

Tom Butterfield takes a moment to view the portraits of Muhammad Ali, 1970, left, and Sir Winston Churchill, 1941 by Yousuf Karsh (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Muhammad Ali, 1970, left, and Sir Winston Churchill, 1941 by Yousuf Karsh (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Georgia O’Keeffe, 1956 by Yousuf Karsh (Photograph by Akil Simmons)