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Image: 35 x 24 cm (13 3/4 x 9 1/2 in.)
Sheet: 35 x 28.3 cm (13 3/4 x 11 1/8 in.)
From the Catalogue:
‘Photography is just luck. There was a fence, and I poked my camera through the fence. It’s a fraction of a second.’
In 1932, a young Henri Cartier-Bresson crouched behind the fence at Paris’s Saint-Lazare train station taking with his Leica camera what would become one of his most iconic images.
At this time Cartier-Bresson was involved in the Surrealist movement, attending their meetings and taking in their notions of the role of the camera and image-making. The Surrealists were enamoured with the relationship between the city and the camera. In his Second Surrealist Manifesto (1929) André Breton argued that the camera functions as a type of gun and that ‘the simplest Surrealist act consists in going into the street, with a revolver in your hand, and shooting at random as often as possible into the crowd.’ And this is what Cartier-Bresson did. When he was not travelling on assignment, he was wandering the streets of Paris hunting for images.
Clément Chéroux posits in the catalogue for the 2013 Pompidou retrospective that between 1929 and 1935, Cartier-Bresson was caught between the rigid teachings of André Lhote, whose academy he had attended in 1927, and the liberty demanded by the Surrealists, seeking to create images in that space between mastery and intuition. This was achieved by his process of frst selecting a graphically interesting background then waiting for something striking to move into the frame. This combination of rigorous composition and signifcant content was what he would later coin the ‘decisive moment’, a term borrowed from Cardinal de Retz, a 17th century French priest. The Surrealists regarded composition and chance as a duality, and for Cartier-Bresson, the appeal of Surrealism was located in this openness to chance. ‘It is to Surrealism that I owe my allegiance and because it taught me to let the camera lens delve into the detritus of the unconscious and chance.’
Cartier-Bresson was a prisoner of war during the Second World War until his escape in 1943, then worked for the French resistance where he was assigned to record the German occupation and retreat. On his return to Paris in 1944, he discovered that many people thought he had died, including Nancy and Beaumont Newhall, who were organising a posthumous exhibition for him in New York. Thrilled by the idea of showing previously unseen work, he helped prepare for the no longer posthumous 1947 MoMA exhibition, reviewing contact sheets and pasting 11 x 7 cm prints into a book he called Scrapbook. It was during this process that Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare was first discovered. Martine Franck explains in a handwritten letter, held at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, that ‘Henri Cartier-Bresson discovered this image of Gare Saint-Lazare in his contact sheets while preparing for his exhibition at MoMA in New York in 1945-1946’. According to Franck, Cartier-Bresson produced the first prints of Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in New York at David (Chim) Seymour’s lab in 1946 or 1947.
As of this writing, only five early prints of this image, printed in 1946-47, are known. The present lot is a glossy, ferrotyped print used by LIFE magazine in March 1947 as a full-page reproduction alongside their praising review of the MoMA exhibition. This was the first time Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare was published. A small print used in Cartier-Bresson’s Scrapbook, showing the full frame and his cropping marks, resides at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson. The Fondation also holds another print that is similar in size to the current lot. Another similarly sized print was sold at Christie’s Paris in the 2001 sale HCB: 100 photographies provenant de la Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson (lot 13). The current location of the large format exhibition print, exhibited in 1947 at MoMA, is unknown.
Phillips Photographs extend our sincere thanks to Aude Raimbault at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson and Tasha Lutek at the Museum of Modern Art for their assistance in our research.
—Courtesy of Phillips
Signature: Indistinctly numbered in an unidentified hand in pencil in the margin, titled, dated and annotated in unidentified hands in pencil, credit reproduction limitation and LIFE stamps, printed title, date, credit and Museum of Modern Art exhibition labels on the verso. Accompanied by a Certificate from the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson signed by Agnès Sire, Director.
The Photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 4 February - 6 April 1947
For another print
Speaking of Pictures: Cartier-Bresson Displays Eloquent Work', LIFE, 3 March 1947, p. 15, for the present lot
Henri Cartier-Bresson, New York: Aperture Foundation, 1987, p. 39
J. Clair, Henri Cartier-Bresson: Europeans, London: Thames & Hudson, 1998, p. 23
Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris, Reykjavik: Reykjavik Museum of Art, 2001, p. 16
M. Marien, Photography: A Cultural History, London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd., 2002, p. 263
P. Galassi et al., Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Man, the Image and the World, London: Thames & Hudson, 2003, pl. 45
Henri Cartier-Bresson: Scrapbook, Photographs 1932-1946, London: Thames & Hudson, 2006, pp. 86-87, uncropped variant
P. Galassi, Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2010, pl. 20a
C. Chéroux, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Here and Now, London: Thames & Hudson, 2014, pl. 63
From the artist to the Museum of Modern Art, New York
Time LIFE Archive, New York
Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
To the present owner
Upon picking up a Leica camera in the early 1930s, Henri Cartier-Bresson fell in love with the spontaneity of photography and went on to pioneer photojournalism. MoMA credits his “uncanny ability to capture life on the run” with helping to define the creative potential of modern photography and lauds him as “the keenest observer of the global theater of human affairs.” Taking pride in capturing “the decisive moment,“ Cartier-Bresson intimately captured portraits and scenes, both mundane and historic, around the world. In 1947, he formed Magnum Photos, a photography cooperative, with Robert Capa and others. Over the ensuing three decades, assignments took him from Ghandi’s funeral in India, to the chaotic streets of Shanghai during China’s Communist revolution, to Queen Charlotte’s elegant ball in London. “To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It's a way of life,” he said.
French, 1908-2004, Chanteloup, France
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