The art world mourns legendary photographer, Peter Beard, the artist, socialite and writer, who was found dead in the woods of Montauk on April 19th. His most known work involves wildlife photography, but his legacy stretches out to include fashion, animal advocacy, and a number of books.
Beard had been missing since March 31st 2020. His body was found in the woods on April 19th – marking almost 20 days since his disappearance. Beard suffered from dementia and it is reported that he previously had at least one stroke. The Beard family said in a statement that they are “all heartbroken by the confirmation of our beloved Peter’s death,” adding that “he died where he lived: in nature.”
Referred to as a “playboy”, “bon vivant”, and “party guy” by several news sites, Beard was a fixture of NYC nightlife, spending his time in elite clubs such as Studio 54, acquainting himself with the likes of Andy Warhol, Truman Capote and Salvador Dali. “Beard doesn’t really make art to enhance life for the rest of us,” a critic for The Globe and Mail of Toronto wrote in 1998. “He has created his flamboyant life as a work of art.”
Despite the controversial press, Beard still managed to carve a career and a name for himself surrounding his life passions. His wildlife photography has been widely recognized and exhibited since the 1970s. One of his artistic approaches includes fusing photographs with excerpts from his diaries; some of these also embellished with blood – either human (his) or from animals (from a butcher). He was renowned for taking risks to get the best shot, including swimming with crocodiles and fearlessly working with angry elephants, including once getting impaled during a shoot in the 1990s. Notable projects include his 1965 tome The End of the Game, focusing on Africa’s vanishing wildlife and big game hunters. Over the years he collaborated with Francis Bacon and Salvador Dalí, made diaries with Andy Warhol, worked on books with scientists including Dr. Norman Borlaug, Dr. Richard Laws, and Alistair Graham, and toured with Truman Capote, Terry Southern, and the Rolling Stones. In 2009 he photographed the Pirelli calendar. He shot fashion editorials for the likes of Elle and Vogue among other top magazines, often bringing supermodels such as Veruschka to Africa to shoot. He is noted as having had discovered legendary model Iman.
The Untitled Magazine‘s Indira Cesarine chatted about her memories with Peter, “I met Peter in my early 20’s he was always such a wild card, full of energy and creativity… the life of the party but also very philosophical. I remember visiting his studio / gallery space in Soho in the 90s, “Time is Always Now” watching him paint on his photos with blood – he always seemed to have a party going on while he painted and worked on his artwork. He photographed me several times over the years and every shoot was unforgettable to say the least. I have great memories hanging out with him in New York and Paris, as well as shooting with him. We had talked many times about him shooting for The Untitled Magazine, but unfortunately it never happened. I’m honored to have been photographed by him – the last time I saw him was on set at Splashlight Studios in 2014, he photographed a group of us all wearing Catherine Malandrino American Flag dresses as well as individual portraits over several days. He was painting his books in between shots and just never stopped creating. He loved photographing women that’s for sure and had an incredible eye. Such a talent he will be greatly missed.”
Beard’s photographs are up in the list of the most expensive photographs ever sold. In 2006, TASCHEN first published his monograph that has come to define his oeuvre, signed by the artist and published in two volumes. It sold out instantly and became a highly sought-after collector’s item. In 2015 TASCHEN published a special edition of The End of the Game for the landmark publication’s 50th anniversary. He had solo shows at New York’s International Center of Photography and Paris’s Centre National de la Photographie amongst other notable galleries and institutions. His auction sales reached a record in 2017 with “Orphaned Cheetah Cubs, Mweiga, near Nyeri, Kenta March,” selling for $672,500 USD at Christie’s New York.
A student of Yale University, Beard first visited Africa when he was 17, and later bought a 45 acre property in Kenya, where he lived and worked for many years as well as Montauk and New York City. He had a string of romances over the years, including a short marriage with supermodel Cheryl Tiegs. In 1986, he married his third wife, Nejma Khanum, who he continued to be with until his death. “He was relentless in his passion for nature, unvarnished and unsentimental but utterly authentic always. Anyone who spent time in his company was swept up by his enthusiasm and his energy,” His family wrote in a statement released on Sunday. He will be remembered for his incredible archive of unique photographs, books, passion for animals, and joie de vivre.