Richard Avedon has called Milton Greene the "greatest photographer of women." Decide for yourself at the Arlington Museum of Art through Aug. 6.
Richard Avedon has called Milton Greene the "greatest photographer of women." Decide for yourself at the Arlington Museum of Art through Aug. 6.
Karen Gavis

Photographer Milton Greene's Intimate Relationship With Marilyn Monroe on Display in Arlington

Pretty dresses hanging to dry outside an apartment building in Italy once caught the attention of photographer Milton Greene. That image, along with 100 others taken by the artist, is now captivating audiences at the Arlington Museum of Art.

The Milton H. Greene: Women exhibit, which runs through Aug. 6, brings together a group of largely black-and-white photographs featuring film stars such as Audrey Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe.

“[Greene] is known for his relationship with Marilyn Monroe,” Chris Hightower, AMA’s executive director, says. “He had a photo shoot with her in 1953, and they became close friends. He is well known in the fashion and celebrity world, the Hollywood world, for his photos.”

Hightower says one of the images on display, which depicts a lighthearted Monroe holding a folksy, acoustic guitar, was taken after she and Greene had forged their relationship.

“It seems very natural of Marilyn,” he says. “It’s a glimpse of Marilyn we don’t always get to see.”

Museum volunteer Maria Persuitte says Monroe and Greene became such good friends that Monroe stayed with Greene’s family for a while before marrying playwright Arthur Miller. Persuitte pointed out other images in the exhibit’s collection, including those of a young Martha Stewart posing for the camera in a setting other than the kitchen.

“[Greene] ... had a way with really bringing out the essence of the female spirit,” Persuitte says.

Greene’s photographs line the walls along two floors of the museum and include scenes of Dietrich dressed as a ringmaster during a 1953 Madison Square Garden circus benefit shoot for Vogue magazine. Other images incorporate veils and lace, and some feature actresses Natalie Wood and Farrah Fawcett.

Photography exhibits have been popular at the museum in the past; Ansel Adams' landscapes and Vivian Maier’s streetscapes were hits, Hightower says. He chose Greene’s work to feature next because it offers something different: a peek into the world of commercial photography. Anne Morin curated the exhibit.

“It’s very much Hollywood,” Hightower said of the traveling exhibit, describing it as '50s, '60s and '70s Americana, and noting that the lone exception to the theme of women is an image of Cary Grant.

Born in 1922, Greene hailed from New York and began shooting photos as a teenager. He later apprenticed to Elliot Elisofen.

“Before long, his keen regard for fashion and the camera found him assisting Louise Dahl-Wolfe, the distinguished fashion photographer known for her unique covers and fashion pages for Harper’s Bazaar,” reads an AMA brochure.

Greene went on to photograph the covers of magazines such as Vogue, Look and Life. Fashion and portrait photographer Richard Avedon has called him “the greatest photographer of women.”

Hightower explained that curated exhibits generally draw from private collections “to convey some sort of a message.” And Greene’s work stands apart from that of other photographers, he says, because “he really understands fashion and understands celebrities and understands women.”

A quote attributed to Greene – “imperfection is perfection” – is stenciled across a wall inside the museum.

Hightower says the museum’s attendance has grown over the past five years, and he expects the number of visitors to continue to climb as development increases within the city’s core. The Milton H. Greene: Women exhibit has generated positive reviews, he says, as well as international press coverage.

Milton H. Greene: Women, on view through Aug. 6 at Arlington Museum of Art, 201 W. Main St. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays, except major holidays. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for seniors and students. Children ages 12 and younger get in free.

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