Pantheon of Notable Aesthetes
John Huston, New York, 1947
Henri Matisse, Vence, France, 1944
Truman Capote, New Orleans, 1947
William Faulkner, Oxford, Mississippi, 1947
Joseph and Stewart Alsop, New York, 1947
Alberto Giacometti, Stampa, Switzerland, 1961
Martine Franck, Paris, 1975
Alfred Stieglitz, New York, 1946
Colette with her companion Pauline, Paris, 1952
George Balanchine, New York, 1959
Louis Kahn, Philadelphia, 1961
Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning, 1955
Albert Camus, Paris, 1944
Jean-Marie Le Clézio with His Wife, Paris, 1965
Carl Jung, Küssnacht, Switzerland, 1961
Marie-Louise Bousquet, Paris, 1959
Coco Chanel, Paris, 1964
Pierre Josse, Alberto Giacometti’s studio, Paris, 1961
Madame Lanvin, Paris, 1945
Simone de Beauvoir, Paris, 1946
Jean-Paul Sartre, Paris, 1946
In the ongoing retrospective celebrating the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson currently appearing at the MOMA, the section featuring his celebrated portraits is my personal favorite. It boggles the mind to realize the breadth and scope of this peripatetic man’s work. Did he ever rest? One can only wonder.
Recognized as one of the great portraitists of the twentieth century, Bresson moved fluidly and effortlessly through life, photographing a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of the most esteemed personalities of their day. Throughout his far-flung travels he was alert to every opportunity to add to his pantheon of notable people—mostly artists and writers—which eventually numbered nearly one thousand.
If this post is inordinately long and indulgently excessive, you have only this aesthete to blame. One can learn so much in studying the poses of these fascinating individuals. For example, contrast the exuberance of Marie-Louise Bousquet with her expressive hands and animated face against the arched deliberateness of the perfectly poised Coco Chanel. One day I would love to create an index of all Bresson’s portraits, adding a charmingly relevant, but surprisingly revealing, anecdote for each. I think it would make a provocative book.
Suffice it to say for now, however, that these few little known facts concerning Bresson’s methods in capturing his images are as fascinating as the man himself.
It is written that he preferred to picture his sitters at home.
It is also written that he was regarded as one of the art world’s most unassuming personalities, which undoubtedly, enhanced his ability to bring out the essence of the personalities captured within the frame of the lens.
Although he took many famous portraits, his own face was little known to the world at large, which had the advantage of allowing him to work on the street in peace.
When asked how long a session might take, he liked to answer, “Longer than the dentist but shorter than the psychoanalyst.”