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Robert Doisneau
Robert Doisneau photographed by Bracha L. Ettinger in his studio in Montrouge, 1992.jpg
Doisneau in his studio in Montrouge, 1992
Robert Doisneau

(1912-04-14)14 April 1912
Gentilly, Val-de-Marne, France
Died 1 April 1994(1994-04-01) (aged 81)
Montrouge, France
Resting place Raizeux
Education École Estienne, 1929 graduate, diplomas in engraving and lithography
Occupation Photographer, engraver
Known for Street photography, Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville (The kiss by the City Hall)
Title Chevalier of the Order of the Legion of Honour

Robert Doisneau (French: [ʁɔbɛʁ dwano]; 14 April 1912 – 1 April 1994) was a French photographer. From the 1930s, he photographed the streets of Paris. He was a champion of humanist photography and with Henri Cartier-Bresson a pioneer of photojournalism.

Doisneau is known for his 1950 image Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville (The Kiss by the City Hall), a photograph of a couple kissing on a busy Parisian street.

He was appointed a Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion of Honour in 1984 by then French president, François Mitterrand.

Photographic career

Doisneau is remembered for his modest, playful, and ironic images of amusing juxtapositions, mingling social classes, and eccentrics in contemporary Paris streets and cafes. Influenced by the work of André Kertész, Eugène Atget, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, in more than twenty books of photography, he presented a charming vision of human frailty and life as a series of quiet, incongruous moments.

Doisneau's work gives unusual prominence and dignity to children's street culture; returning again and again to the theme of children at play in the city, unfettered by parents. His work treats their play with seriousness and respect.

Early life

Doisneau's father, a plumber, died on active service in World War I, when his son was about four. His mother died when he was seven. He then was raised by an aunt. At thirteen, he enrolled at the École Estienne, a craft school from which he graduated in 1929 with diplomas in engraving and lithography. There he had his first contact with the arts, taking classes in figure drawing and still life.

When he was 16, he took up amateur photography, but was reportedly so shy that he started by photographing cobble-stones before progressing to children and then adults.

At the end of the 1920s, Doisneau found work as a draughtsman (lettering artist) in the advertising industry at Atelier Ullmann (Ullmann Studio), a creative graphics studio that specialised in the pharmaceutical industry. Here he took an opportunity to change career by also acting as camera assistant in the studio and then becoming a staff photographer.

Photography in the 1930s

In 1931, he left both the studio and advertising, taking a job as an assistant with the modernist photographer André Vigneau. In 1932, he sold his first photographic story to Excelsior magazine.

In 1934, he began working as an industrial advertising photographer for the Renault car factory at Boulogne-Billancourt. Working at Renault increased Doisneau's interest in working with photography and people. Five years later, in 1939, he was dismissed because he was constantly late. He was forced to try freelance advertising, engraving, and postcard photography to earn his living. At that time, the French postcard industry was the largest in Europe, postcards served as greetings cards as well as vacation souvenirs. In 1991, he said that the years at the Renault car factory marked "the beginning of his career as a photographer and the end of his youth."

In 1939, he was later hired by Charles Rado of the Rapho photographic agency and traveled throughout France in search of picture stories. This is where he took his first professional street photographs.

War service and resistance

Doisneau worked at the Rapho agency until the outbreak of World War II, whereupon he was drafted into the French army as both a soldier and photographer. He was in the army until 1940 and, from then until the end of the war in 1945, used his draughtsmanship, lettering artistry, and engraving skills to forge passports and identification papers for the French Resistance.

Post-war photography

Photographers Robert Doisneau (left) and André Kertész in 1975 a
Doisneau (left) and André Kertész in 1975 at Arles

Some of Doisneau's most memorable photographs were taken after the war. He returned to freelance photography and sold photographs to Life and other international magazines. He briefly joined the Alliance Photo Agency but rejoined the Rapho agency in 1946 and remained with them throughout his working life, despite receiving an invitation from Henri Cartier-Bresson to join Magnum Photos.

His photographs never ridiculed the subjects; thus he refused to photograph women whose heads had been shaved as punishment for sleeping with Germans.

In 1948, he was contracted by Vogue to work as a fashion photographer. The editors believed he would bring a fresh and more casual look the magazine but Doisneau did not enjoy photographing beautiful women in elegant surroundings; he preferred street photography. When he could escape from the studio, he photographed in the Paris streets.

Le Groupe des XV was established in 1946 in Paris to promote photography as art and drawing attention to the preservation of French photographic heritage, and Doisneau joined in 1950 and participated alongside Rene-Jacques, Willy Ronis, and Pierre Jahan. After the group was disbanded, he joined the less exclusive and more militant Les 30 x 40, the Club Photographique de Paris.

The 1950s were Doisneau's peak, but the 1960s were his wilderness years. In the 1970s, Europe began to change and editors looked for new reportage that would show the sense of a new social era. All over Europe, the old-style picture magazines were closing as television gained the public's attention. Doisneau continued to work, producing children's books, advertising photography, and celebrity portraits including Alberto Giacometti, Jean Cocteau, Fernand Léger, Georges Braque, and Pablo Picasso.

Doisneau worked with writers and poets such as Blaise Cendrars and Jacques Prévert, and he credited Prevert with giving him the confidence to photograph the everyday street scenes that most people simply ignored.

The photography of Doisneau has had a revival since his death in 1994. Many of his portraits and photographs of Paris from the end of World War II through the 1950s have been turned into calendars and postcards, and have become icons of French life.

Le Baiser de l'hôtel de ville (The Kiss)

In 1950 Doisneau created his most recognizable work for Life – Le Baiser de l'hôtel de ville (Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville), a photograph of a couple kissing in the busy streets of Paris, which became an internationally recognised symbol of young love in Paris. The identity of the couple remained a mystery until 1992.

Jean and Denise Lavergne erroneously believed themselves to be the couple in The Kiss, and when Robert and Annette Doisneau (his older daughter and also his assistant at the time) met them for lunch in the 1980s he "did not want to shatter their dream" so he said nothing. This resulted in them taking him to court for "taking their picture without their knowledge", because under French law an individual owns the rights to their own likeness. The court action forced Doisneau to reveal that he posed the shot using Françoise Delbart and Jacques Carteaud, lovers whom he had just seen kissing, but had not photographed initially because of his natural reserve; he approached them and asked if they would repeat the kiss. He won the court case against the Lavergnes. Doisneau said in 1992: "I would never have dared to photograph people like that. Lovers kissing in the street, those couples are rarely legitimate."

The couple in Le baiser were Françoise Delbart, 20, and Jacques Carteaud, 23, both aspiring actors. In 2005, Françoise Bornet (née Delbart) stated: "He told us we were charming, and asked if we could kiss again for the camera. We didn't mind. We were used to kissing. We were doing it all the time then, it was delicious. Monsieur Doisneau was adorable, very low key, very relaxed." They posed at the Place de la Concorde, the Rue de Rivoli and finally the Hôtel de Ville. The photograph was published on 12 June 1950, issue of Life. The relationship between Delbart and Carteaud only lasted for nine months. Delbart continued her acting career, but Carteaud gave up acting to become a wine producer.

In 1950, Françoise Bornet was given an original print of the photograph, bearing Doisneau's signature and stamp, as part of the payment for her "work". In April 2005, she sold the print at auction for €155,000 to an unidentified Swiss collector via the Paris auctioneers Artcurial Briest-Poulain-Le Fur.

Personal life

In 1936, Doisneau married Pierrette Chaumaison whom he had met in 1934 when she was cycling through a village where he was on holiday. The couple had two daughters, Annette (b. 1942) and Francine (b. 1947). From 1979 until his death, Annette worked as his assistant.

His wife died in 1993 suffering from Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Doisneau died six months later in 1994, having had a triple heart bypass and was suffering from acute pancreatitis. Annette said: "We won in the courts (re: The Kiss), but my father was deeply shocked. He discovered a world of lies, and it hurt him. The Kiss ruined the last years of his life. Add that to my mother suffering from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and I think it's fair to say he died of sadness."

Doisneau was in many ways a shy and humble man, similar to his photography, still delivering his own work at the height of his fame.

He lived in southern Paris (Gentilly, Val-de-Marne, Montrouge, and the 13th arrondissement) throughout his life. He is buried in the cemetery at Raizeux beside his wife.

Awards and commemoration

Corbeil-Essonnes Lycée Doisneau
Lycée Robert Doisneau de Corbeil-Essonnes
  • Kodak Prize, 1947
  • Niépce Prize, 1956 (Nicéphore Niépce)
  • Grand Prix National de la Photographie, 1983
  • Balzac Prize, 1986 (Honoré de Balzac)
  • Chevalier of the Order of the Legion of Honour, 1984.
  • Honorary Fellowship (HonFRPS) from the Royal Photographic Society, 1991.
  • The Maison de la photographie Robert Doisneau in Gentilly, Val-de-Marne, is a photography gallery named in his honour.
  • Several Ecole Primaire (primary schools) are named after him. Ecole élémentaire Robert Doisneau is at Véretz (Indre-et-Loire).
  • The Allée Robert Doisneau is named in his honour at the 'Parc de Billancourt' on the site of the old Renault factory at Boulogne-Billancourt.
  • On 14 April 2012, Google celebrated his 100th birthday with a Google Doodle.


  • 1947 Salon de la Photo, Bibliothèque, Paris
  • 1951 Exhibition with Brassaї, Willy Ronis, and Izis, Museum of Modern Art, New York
  • 1960 Solo exhibition, Museum of Modern Art, Chicago.
  • 1965 Exhibition with Daniel Frasnay, Jean Lattès, Jeanine Niépce, Roger Pic, and Willy Ronis, Six Photographes et Paris, Musée des Arts Decoratifs, Paris; Exhibition with Henri Cartier-Bresson and André Vigneau, Musée Réattu, Arles; Solo Exhibition, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; Exhibition with D. Brihat, J. P. Sudre, and L. Clergue, Musée Cantini de Marseilles
  • 1972 Solo Exhibition, International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester, New York
  • 1972 Exhibition with Edouard Boubat, Brassaї, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Izis, and Willy Ronis, French Embassy, Moscow
  • 1974 Solo Exhibition, University of California at Davis. Solo exhibition, Galerie du Château d’Eau, Toulouse
  • 1975 Solo Exhibition, Witkin Gallery, New York; Musée Réattu Arts Décoratifs, Nantes; Musée Réattu, Arles
  • 1975 Solo exhibition, Galerie et Fils, Brussels. Solo exhibition, fnac, Lyons; Group exhibition, Expression de l’humor, Boulogne Billancourt; Solo exhibition, Galerie Neugebauer, Basel
  • 1976 Exhibition with Brassaї, Cartier-Bresson, Jean-Philippe Charbonnier, Izis, and Marc Riboud, Kraków
  • 1977 Solo Exhibition, Brussels; Exhibition with Guy la Querrec, Carlos Freire, Claude Raimond-Dityvon, Bernard Descamps, and Jean Lattès, Six Photographes en quête de banlieue, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
  • 1978 Solo Exhibition, Ne Bougeons plus, Galerie Agathe Gaillard, Paris; Solo exhibition, Witkin Gallery, New York; Solo exhibition, Musée Nicéphore Niépce, Charlon-sur-Saône
  • 1979 Solo Exhibition, Paris, les passants qui passent, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
  • 1980 Solo Exhibition, Amsterdam
  • 1981 Solo Exhibition, Witkin Gallery, New York
  • 1982 Solo Exhibition, Portraits, Foundation Nationale de la Photographie, Lyons; Solo exhibition, French Embassy, New York; Solo exhibition, Robert Doisneau, Photographe de banlieue, Town Hall, Gentilly
  • 1982 Solo exhibition of 120 photographs, Palace of Fine Arts, Beijing, Exhibition of portraits, Tokyo; Solo exhibition, Robert Doisneau, Photographie du dimanche, Institut Lumière, Lyon
  • 1986 Group Exhibition, De Vogue à femme, Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie d’Arles
  • 1987 Solo Exhibition, St.-Denis, Musée de St.-Denis; Solo exhibition, The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto
  • 1988 Solo Exhibition, A Homage to Robert Doisneau, Villa Medicis, Rome
  • 1989 Solo Exhibition, Doisneau-Renault, Grande Halle de la Villette, Paris
  • 1990 Solo Exhibition, La Science de Doisneau, Jardin des Plantes, Paris
  • 1992 Solo Exhibition, Robert Doisneau: A Retrospective, Modern Art Oxford
  • 1993 The Summerlee Heritage Trust, Coatbridge, Scotland; Royal Festival Hall, London; Manchester City Art Gallery; O Mes da Fotografie Festival, Convento do Beato, Lisbon, Portugal; Musée Carnavalet, Paris
  • 1994 "Hommage à Robert Doisneau", festival des Rencontres d'Arles, France
  • 1994 Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, Canada; Galway Arts Centre, Ireland; Solo exhibition, A Homage to Robert Doisneau, Galerie du Château d’Eau à Toulouse; Solo exhibition, Doisneau 40/44, Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation de Lyon, Lyon, France; Solo exhibition, Robert Doisneau ou la désobéissance, Ecomusée de Fresnais
  • 1995 Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, England; Aberdeen Art Gallery, Scotland; The Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry
  • 1996 Solo Exhibition, Montpellier Photo-Visions, Galerie Municipale de la Photographie; Isetan Museum of Art, Tokyo; Daimaru Museum, Osaka, Japan
  • 2000 Exhibition, Gravités, Paris
  • 2000 Exhibition, Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris
  • 2002 Exhibition, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Santiago, Chile
  • 2003 Exhibition, Budapest, Hungary; Exhibition, Bucarest, Romania
  • 2003 Exhibition, Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris
  • 2005 Solo Exhibition, Robert Doisneau from the Fictional to the Real, Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York
  • 2005 Solo Exhibition, Robert Doisneau, Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris
  • 2010 Solo Exhibitions, Robert Doisneau, Du metier a l'oeuvre, Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, 2, Impasse Lebouis, 75014 Paris
  • 2010 Group Exhibition, Discoveries, Robert Doisneau, Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York
  • 2010 Solo Exhibition, Robert Doisneau, the fisherman of images, the Space for Art of Caja Madrid Zaragoza, Aranjuez, Madrid
  • 2011 Group exhibition: Night, Robert Doisneau Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York
  • 2014 exhibition : The moments that he loved, sangsangmadang, Seoul
  • 2015 exhibition : Robert Doisneau, a photographer at the museum, Grande Galerie de l'Évolution, Paris

Films about Doisneau

A short film, Le Paris de Robert Doisneau, was made in 1973.

In 1992 the French actress and producer Sabine Azéma made the film Bonjour Monsieur Doisneau.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Robert Doisneau para niños

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