British photographer Terry O’Neill (1938-2019) made his name in the 1960s-70s, capturing shots of the stars he cosied up to on both sides of the Atlantic.
Attributing his success with celebrities to genuinely liking his subjects and offering plenty of ‘compliments’, O’Neill presented figures such as Frank Sinatra, Brigitte Bardot and his one-time wife Faye Dunaway, often in intimate and unconventional compositions.
Zebra One Gallery in Hampstead, London, offers a peek even further behind the curtain this month with its exhibition Terry O’Neill: The Vintage Collection.
His archive of two million negatives, which has been revisited over the past five years, has provided 13 signed prints that will be unveiled at the show, from September 15-29. Some have never been seen before and cannot be reproduced to the same level of authenticity following the death of the photographer last year.
Though he came to be familiar with David Bowie, The Beatles and Elizabeth Taylor, O’Neill started small. The son of Irish immigrants living in London, he was initially encouraged to become a priest.
Eventually he joined the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), hoping to reach the US and become a jazz musician. BOAC offered him an apprenticeship as a technical photographer, during which he captured a man napping in Heathrow Airport who turned out to be – apparently by chance – then home secretary Rab Butler. He sold the picture and started work on Fleet Street.
O’Neill’s interest in music led him to photograph The Beatles and The Rolling Stones when they were first starting out in the 1960s, and he went on to capture celebrity of all sorts, from models to film stars to politicians. During his career he photographed every actor to play James Bond and every British prime minister from Winston Churchill to Gordon Brown.
Dunaway in a daze
One of the photographer’s most recognisable works is a shot of actress Dunaway – his girlfriend at the time – in 1977, the morning after winning her best actress Oscar for Network. In the final print she is shown with a dazed expression, sitting in front of a Beverly Hills pool surrounded by the statuette and newspapers.
The contact sheet for the shoot, which includes various outtakes of Dunaway lounging by the pool, is among the highlights from Zebra One, where it is offered for £5000.
O’Neill remains highly collectable by private and institutional buyers alike. London’s National Portrait Gallery, which held the exhibition Terry O’Neill: Celebrity in 2013, has 75 of his works in its permanent collection, for example.
His top prices on the open market were achieved in the same year at a Bukowskis auction in Sweden, where his classic image Frank Sinatra, Miami Beach, 1968 was hammered down for the equivalent of nearly £25,500, more than double its low estimate (source: Artprice by Artmarket).
O’Neill’s prints can easily be bought for less, but they do regularly stretch into three and four figures on the open market.
Though not the same shot that commanded such a high price several years ago, an image of Sinatra from the same year on the set of Lady in Cement is offered at Zebra One for £10,000.
Among the top offerings at the gallery is a contact sheet from a portrait session of David Bowie from 1974 for his Diamond Dogs Tour, which shows the star smoking in a yellow suit (above top). Initialled by Bowie to the front, it is also signed by O’Neill who called the artist his “creative muse”. It is the only known print in existence and is offered for £25,000.
Zebra One Gallery specialises in Contemporary art, working in the primary and secondary markets, and has been established in Hampstead village since 1978. It has sold art by David Hockney, Bridget Riley and Roy Lichtenstein.