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Roloff Beny, OC (1924-1984) was a Canadian photographer who spent the better part of his life in Rome and on his photographic travels throughout the world. Born Wilfred Roy Beny in Medicine Hat, Alberta, he later took as his first name Roloff, his mother's maiden name.

Roloff Beny
Wilfred Roy Beny

(1924-01-07)January 7, 1924
DiedMarch 16, 1984(1984-03-16) (aged 60)
AwardsOrder of Canada


Beny was born in Medicine Hat, Alberta on January 7, 1924.[1][2]

Beny studied at the University of Toronto and took art classes at the Banff Centre for the Arts and the University of Iowa. At Iowa, he studied with master printmaker Mauricio Lasansky, who gave him one of his prints.

He maintained a photographic studio in Lethbridge, Alberta throughout his life and used the studio while visiting his relatives.

Development of fameEdit

Beny had a considerable reputation and exhibition record as the maker of progressive painting, drawing and printmaking in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He was recognized as one of the leading abstract artists of his day with works of the period exhibited and collected at that time by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the National Gallery of Canada, among others. His work in painting, drawing and prints is discussed in Roloff Beny Visual Journeys.[3]

Canada, as Beny remarked, had "no temples two thousand years old, no paths worn hard by passionate travelers."[4] But the photographer soon found his way to those paths and temples in the course of "insatiable wanderings in Europe and Asia," and, above all, around the perimeter of the Mediterranean.[4] Beny was in early days a protégé of Peggy Guggenheim and Herbert Read. The circle of friends around him—actors, artists, collectors, writers—included such figures as Laurence Olivier, Stephen Spender, Rose Macaulay, Bernard Berenson, Jean Cocteau, Henry Moore, and other luminaries of art and literature. His books have been published in America, Canada, England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iran, and Japan.

Career in its peak; life's endEdit

Beny was obsessed with the beauty of the world. He has been called "a poetic photographer"[4] and he was a passionate aesthete. His photographic journeys were recorded in a series of large-scale volumes which appeared over the years. Beny's work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Canada, and the Yale University Art Gallery. "I see majestic ruins even in the architecture of the skies," he wrote in the Preface to one of his splendid and marvelous books.[5]

Roloff Beny died March 16, 1984 of a heart attack, aged 60, in his Roman studio overlooking the Tiber.[6][1] His last four volumes appeared posthumously.

Beny donated his collections of international, Canadian, and his own art, as well as his papers, to the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery.[7]

Roloff Beny's booksEdit