Presentable

Emma Tennant

Lenare was founded in 1924 by Leonard Green, whose portrait baptises this collection of society photographs. Facing him is an Unknown Woman, captured at the War’s end in an inverted pigeon’s nest and furs: she was presumably the first and certainly the last unknown woman to confront his lens. Lenare wanted fame and wealth to pose for him, and they did. Pearls glowed on old necks smoothed to youth. Girls with lacrosse-stick arms were, mysteriously, sylphides. And to show that this was no parlour for women, duchesses and children only, a posse of field marshals and lords, Smuts and Slim and Brocket, an admiral (Bowes-Lyon) and a braid of Excellencies stood and sat before the undemanding tripod. For Lenare wanted wealth and fame to feel there was safety in these attributes, and none of the perils exposed by a starker, colder camera (the tycoon’s incipient five o’clock shadow presaging a wild, unshaven face, the face of a kidnapped man): in Lenare’s calming view, diamonds and fine silks on the ladies are demonstrably there for ever, and are not the casual property of a lessee, a girl with her eye on the Main Chance, an obvious future divorcee, doomed to mope in C&A while her successor drawls in Hardy Amies. In the absolute stillness of the portraits, group photographs and weddings lay the secret of Lenare’s powers of reassurance. These quiet, well-mannered frescoes could know no Pompeii – but it is surprising to find Frankie Howerd here, and if one takes him at first for a duchess in drag, it becomes suddenly easy to see him, with one lift of the eyebrow, bring the whole marzipan edifice tumbling down.

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