01 February 2024

Paris: the city of love through the lenses of Brassaï, André Kertész, and Willy Ronis

Scala is delighted to invite you on a journey to Paris to celebrate Valentine's Day.

Some of the most famous Master of Photography of the twentieth century, represented by Scala via Reunion des Muéees Nationaux, will guide us through this visual tour of the City of Light. 

Paris. The city of love, and more.

Romantic capital par excellence, Paris owes much of its fame to literature. Countless love stories have unfolded in the French capital, from the works of Flaubert (“Sentimental Education”) to Zola (“Nanà”), and from Colette (“Chérie”) to Muriel Barbery (“The Elegance of the Hedgehog”). Over the centuries, Paris has been the home of many tales and numerous characters, enriching our perception of the city with vivid descriptions of real and imagined places, both past and present.

Cinema has been instrumental in solidifying in our memory the imagery of the city during the latter half of the twentieth century, both in black and white and in colour. From Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, which offer us strolls along the Champs-Elysées, to the scenes depicted in The Wonderful World of Amélie as we dart from one station to another via Montmartre, and then to the enchanting journey presented in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, guiding us through the Rive Gauche of the Sorbonne and the Church of St. Etienne, into fashionable establishments like the Restaurant Polidor and the Moulin Rouge. 

The portrayal of the city through Literature and Cinema is complemented by Visual Arts. 

We could delve into the works of numerous renowned painters who have dedicated themselves to capturing Paris over the centuries. To name a just a few of those who have documented its nineteenth and twentieth century transformations: Monet, Caillebotte, Van Gogh, Delaunay. But today our exploration leads us through the photographs of significant masters of twentieth-century photography. 

The esteemed collaboration between Scala and Reunion des Muées Nationaux (RMN) allows us to further delve into the portrayal of Paris through the images captured by Brassaï, André Kertész, and Willy Ronis, esteemed interpreters of black and white photography.

Brassaï. The Eye of Paris.

Brassaï (Gyula Halász), born in Brazov in Hungary (now Romania) but naturalized French, is perhaps one of the best-known interpreters of between the two world wars Paris.

Upon relocating to the French capital in 1924, Brassaï discovered his passion for photography while working as a journalist. He immerged himself in the vibrant neighbourhoods of Montparnasse and Montmartre, which were known for attracting painters, writers, poets, and musicians. Surrounded by a lively community of fellow expatriates, artists, and writers, the photographer delved into an unexplored, nocturnal side of Paris, that had previously been overlooked. 

The writer Henry Miller affectionately referred to his friend Brassaï as “the eye of Paris”. It is worth noting the photographer’s profound and unwavering love for the city: all-encompassing and unconditional.

Brassaï’s photographs celebrate on the one hand the beauty of the daily life of ordinary people and the elegance and sophistication of the elite, on the other, they portray misty alleys and dimly lit cafes: the vibrant soul of the city after dark, populated by prostitutes, drinkers, revelers.

The district of Paris most immortalized by Brassaï is undoubtedly Montparnasse.

Between the two world wars, Paris served as a safe haven for artists and intellectuals who sought refuge from the turmoil and unpredictability of their home countries. Montparnasse emerged as a focal point for the creative community. The city’s vibrant café culture, literary salons, and avant-garde art galleries provided a fertile ground for the exchange of ideas and the flourishing of various artistic movements.

Check here all the photographs by Brassaï already available in Scala.

André Kertész. I write the light.

André Kertész, born in Budapest in 1894, left Hungary in 1925 to settle in Paris. It was in this city, under the guidance of his teacher and compatriot Brassaï, that he established himself as a photographer and became a significant interpreter of a poetic style associated with surrealism, despite his use of technical methods.

Kertész also arrived in the 1920s vibrant Paris, a time brimming with unexpected opportunities, especially in the field of photography. During these years, notable illustrated magazines were established, photography was embraced as a means of artistic expression by the avant-garde, and surrealist photographers like Man Ray and Berenice Abbott showcased their work through exhibitions. Additionally, this era witnessed the early encounters of promising talents like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau.

Burlesque dancer, Paris 1926 © André Kertész / RMN-Grand Palais /Dist. Photo SCALA, Firenze

Known for his innovative approach to composition and his skillful use of light and shadow, Kertész expertly captures the beauty of ordinary life by emphasizing small, intimate moments that often go unnoticed. His fondness for geometry and form infuses his photographs with a captivating and evocative essence.

I capture the ordinary moments of life, which may have seemed insignificant before, and breathe new life into them through a fresh perspective. I take pleasure in photographing subjects that deserve to be immortalized, showcasing the world even in its humble and mundane glimpses.

Paris held a special place in Kertész’s works for almost a decade, from 1925 to 1936, until he moved to New York. Even when the city itself wasn’t portrayed, it remained one of Kertész’s favourite subjects. We could say that, through this photographer’s lens, we are able to discover a city made up of its interiors and intricate details. In his Postcards, as well as in the series Distortions (1933), the Maestro captures “his” Paris, capturing the essence of the era and the city. He conveys a sense of closeness and self-reflection that invites viewers to explore the human experience of the city with its countless faces and possibilities.

 Check here all the photographs by André Kertész already available in Scala.

Willy Ronis. Look at Paris with your heart in your eyes.

Willy Ronis, the son of two Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, began his journey into photography in a politically charged Paris during the 1930s, just before the horrors of war unfolded. 

Although he gained recognition for many of his photographs, his most iconic works emerged in the 1950s, showcasing the beauty of everyday life and driven by a constant search for the universal meaning of existence. 

As a member of the “humanist photographers” group, Ronis captured the joyful spirit of post-war France, portraying lively scenes of Belleville and Ménilmontant in Paris with an idyllic, storybook quality, featuring

busy passers-by

children’s games

kisses between lovers

Check here all the photographs by Willy Ronis already available in Scala (link dinamico)

Capturing photos of couples by the banks of the Seine in spring – it may be a cliché, but why deny oneself such joy? (…) Every time I encounter lovers, my camera smiles; let it do its work.

And with this final quote, Scala sends you warm wishes for a happy Valentine’s Day!

If you would like to have more information on the photography collections represented by Scala, you can consult the dedicated page of the website. 

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Scala officially represents RMN – Reunion des Muéees Nationaux for all clients based in Italy and the UK. Visit here the complete list of Photographers whose copyright Scala can manage internationally. 


In the cover: The lovers of the la Bastille, Paris, 1957 © Willy Ronis / RMN-Grand Palais /Dist. Photo SCALA, Florence