George Hurrell’s Famous Background Screen

George Edward Hurrell (1904 – 1992) is credited with developing the glamour idiom in photography and creating the standard for the idealized Hollywood glamour portrait.  He invented the boom light, and is credited with developing other innovative lighting and darkroom techniques.  However, his greatest claim to fame, and his most remembered contribution to the history of photography, is that he is the definitive photographer of Hollywood stars.  Today many Hollywood photographers refer to their own work as shooting in the ‘Hurrell style.’

At age 18, George Hurrell started out as a fine art painter, studying at the prestigious Art Institute in Chicago.  Attracted to all things new, and impressed with innovation, Hurrell was greatly impressed with the paintings of early Italian surrealist painter, Giorgio De Chirico (1888 – 1978), and so began painting in that style.

Irene Homer by George Hurrell

Here we see George Hurrell’s famous background screen that he used when he opened his first photography studio on LaFayette Park Place in Los Angeles, California. Hurrell would paint the background needed for the particular photo session on this screen. He continued to use this background screen at MGM, and used it throughout the rest of his pre-1950 Hollywood glamour years.

Norma Shearer by George Hurrell

Norma Shearer

In the 1950’s, Hurrell decided that he no longer needed the screen for his work, so he took it home and began a large painting in the style of his most favorite surrealist painter, Giorgio de Chirico. It was placed in the front room of his Beverly Hills home, and later was in the den of his home in the San Fernando Valley.  He continued to work on the screen, changing details from time to time, right up until the last year of his life.

George Hurrell by Helmut Newton

George Hurrell by Helmut Newton