Melina Mercouri


Silver print

19 7/8 × 15 7/8 in

Irving Penn (1917-2009), one of the undisputed masters of twentieth-century photography, is known for his iconic images of haute couture and still life, but also, and above all, for his magnificent portraits of the artists, writers and celebrities who marked the cultural landscape of their time.

Greek actress, singer, and political figure Melina Mercouri (1920-1994) was the muse and wife of American director Jules Dassin, who cast her in eight of his films, including Never on Sunday  (1960). She was named Best Actress at Cannes and was nominated for an Oscar for her role in this film. The song she sang in it, “The Children of Piraeus”, won the Oscar for best original song in 1961.

As the Greek Minister of Culture from 1981 to 1989 and from 1993 until her death, she battled constantly but unsuccessfully for the return of the Parthenon friezes currently housed at the British Museum. As a member of the European Council, she created the concept of European Capitals of Culture in 1985. With the intent of “helping to bringing European peoples closer together,” her idea was to designate two cities a year that would host artistic events and also spotlight their own historic and cultural heritage.

This photograph was shown for the first time by Pinault Collection in 2023 during the exhibition “Irving Penn, Artists' Portraits”, Villa Les Roches Brunes, Dinard.