Alexey Brodovitch was a Russian-born American designer and photographer, known for his time as the art director of Harper’s Bazaar from 1934 to 1958. Brodovitch was born in Ogolichi, Оголичи Aholičy, Russian Empire (now Belarus) to a wealthy Polish family in 1898. His father, Cheslau or Vyacheslav Brodovitch, was a respected physician, psychiatrist and huntsman. His mother was an amateur painter. During the Russo-Japanese War, his family moved to Moscow, where his father worked in a hospital for Japanese prisoners. Alexey was sent to study at the Prince Tenisheff School
, a prestigious institution in Saint Petersburg, with the intentions of eventually enrolling in the Imperial Art Academy. He had no formal training in art through his childhood, but often sketched noble profiles in the audience at concerts in the city.
At the start of World War I at the young age of 16, Brodovitch abandoned his dream of entering the Imperial Art Academy and ran away from home to join the Russian army. Not long after, his father had him brought home and hired a private tutor to help Alexey finish school. Upon graduating, Brodovitch ran away again on several occasions. During the Russian Civil War, Brodovitch served with the White Army. While fighting against the Bolsheviks in Odessa, he was badly wounded and was hospitalized for a time in Kislovodsk, in the Caucasus.
In 1918, the town was surrounded by the Bolsheviks, forcing Brodovitch into exile. It was during this retreat to the south through Caucasus and Turkey that he met his future wife, Nina. By good fortune, Alexey's brother Nicolas turned out to be one of the soldiers guarding the refugees in Novorossiysk. Not long after, their father, who had been imprisoned in Saint Petersburg by the Bolsheviks, managed to flee to Novorossiysk in hopes of finding his family. The three were once again together, and arranged for Brodovitch's mother and other relations to join them in Constantinople. Finally reunited, the Brodovitchs made their way to France.
In Paris, he lived in poverty amidst the vibrant avant-garde scene of the era, working as a backdrop painter for Serge Diaghilev
’s Ballets Russes. Brodovitch embraced technical developments from the spheres of industrial design, photography, and contemporary painting. His broad curiosity began to assimilate the most interesting aspects of all these fields into his work, eventually making them his own. He later instilled this same curiosity in his students, encouraging them to use new techniques like the airbrush, industrial lacquers, flexible steel needles, and surgical knives. By the age of 32, Brodovitch had dabbled in producing posters, china, jewelry, textiles, advertisements, and paintings. Eventually specializing in advertising and graphic design, he had become one of the most respected designers of commercial art in Paris.
By 1930, however, Paris had lost its luster for Brodovitch. The once-flourishing spirit of adventure and experimentation was fading away. Although he was offered many design positions, Brodovitch turned them down, presumably looking for new locales to advance his designs. Brodovitch moved to the United States, accepting a post as a professor of advertising in Philadelphia.
Only four years later, he was hired as the art director of Harper's Bazaar
. During his tenure there, he fundamentally changed the magazine’s aesthetic, hiring a number of unique photographers to provide editorial content, including Man Ray
, Henri Cartier-Bresson
, Lisette Model
, and Robert Frank
. Brodovitch left the magazine in 1958, but continued to teach design until his death on April 15, 1971 in Le Thor, France.
Today, his works are held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago
, Museum of Modern Art
in New York, and the National Gallery of Art
in Washington, D.C.