HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON (1908-2004)
Hyères, France, 1932
gelatin silver print
7 7/8 x 11 5/8in. (20 x 29.5cm.)
From Jack Sweeney;
to the present owner in 1941
Kirstein and Newhall, The Photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Museum of Modern Art, 1947, p. 25; Henri Cartier-Bresson: Photographe, Delpire, 1979, pl. 13; Galassi, Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Early Work, The Museum of Modern Art, 1987, p. 100; Arbaïzar et al., Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Man, the Image and the World, Thames and Hudson, 2003, pl. 76, p. 77; Documentary and Anti-Graphic Photographs: Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Steidl, 2004, p. 123
Hyères, France, 1932 is a perfect example of Henri Cartier- Bresson's tremendously influential approach to photography of life in flux that was variously described at the time as 'poetic accident', 'anti-graphic photography' and 'fleeting instants'. The term, 'the decisive moment' that we know today did not exist until twenty years later when he defined it himself in his book The Decisive Moment (1952) as, 'the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.'
The present lot was acquired either from the Julien Levy Gallery or directly from Henri Cartier-Bresson when he came to New York for his exhibitions at the gallery, in 1933 and 1935. We know that it was presented as a gift to the present owner by Jack Sweeney in 1941. Sweeney was a scholar, critic, art collector and poet. He was considered to be the 'Father of the Poetry Room' at Harvard University. His brother was the art critic and museum director, James Johnson Sweeney. Thus, Jack was part of the artisitic milieu into which Levy introduced Cartier-Bresson and they met at that time.
This image was apparently high in Cartier-Bresson's estimation of his own work as it figured as number two on his hand-written list of inventory held at Levy's gallery during the period of both exhibitions. This print was most likely made before the 1933 exhibition. He was working in Spain and Mexico leading up to the 1935 exhibition and presumably concentrated his printing efforts on more recent work. That same year, he turned his attention to filmmaking and returned to Europe. By 1940 he was captured and held prisoner by the Nazis.
Cartier-Bresson prints from the Levy provenance usually have his signature and the address of the gallery on the back. Because the present lot is mounted, probably by Sweeney, and certainly before 1941, we do not know whether or not it is signed on the back. But it displays the same characteristics of other prints from this period that were described in a review from The Sun (April 27, 1935) as having, 'a pearly, agreeable tone, avoiding harsh blacks and yet having the greatest legibility and precision.'