Curtis Moffat created dynamic abstract photographs, innovative colour still lives and some of the most glamorous society portraits of the early 20th century. He was also a pivotal figure in Modernist interior design.
Moffat was born in New York in 1887 and studied painting there, and in Paris from 1913-1914 at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. In 1916 he married the English actress and poet Iris Tree, the daughter of the actor Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree. Moffat collaborated in photography with Man Ray in Paris in 1923 producing portraits and abstract 'photograms', or 'Rayographs'. Moving to London shortly after, Moffat opened an interior design company and gallery in Fitzroy Square in 1929. The company sold Modernist furniture and home-ware by some of the best designers of the day, as well as African sculpture. It was here, throughout the 1920s and early '30s, that Moffat also produced stylish photographic portraits of society figures, among them, actresses Diana Cooper and Tallulah Bankhead, writers and poets Samuel Beckett, Daphne du Maurier, Nancy Cunard and the Sitwell brothers, and photographer Cecil Beaton. The enterprise closed in 1933 largely due to the effects of the Depression.
During the early 1930s, Moffat was acknowledged for his pioneering use of colour photography that he applied for both commercial and artistic ends. A solo exhibition of his work in colour, primarily of carefully arranged still life subjects, was held at the Mayor Gallery, London in 1935. Moffat and his first wife divorced in 1932 and in 1936 he married Kathleen Allan who had worked with him for some years in his studio. He returned to the US in 1939 and turned his attention again to painting, predominantly still lives, at his house on Martha's Vineyard until his death in 1949.
Moffat's archive, containing over 1,000 photographic prints and negatives as well as press cuttings, scrap books and ephemera, was generously donated to the V&A in 2007 by Penelope Smail, the daughter of Curtis and Kathleen Moffat. The donation is celebrated by featuring some of its highlights in this display. It also acts as a starting point to study Moffat's pioneering but hitherto little-known work in more depth and to reinstate his pivotal position among the most notable artists, designers and society figures of the early 20th century European avant-garde.