Henri Cartier-Bresson

Date/place of birth

August 22, 1908, Chanteloup-en-Brie, France

Day/place of death

August 3, 2004, Montjustin, France

Henri Cartier-Bresson - On the Rhine river
Henri Cartier-Bresson - On the Rhine river

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Henri Cartier-Bresson biography

Henri Cartier-Bresson lived for the moment, the special and unrepeatable instant in which he pressed the button on his camera and created a further original pictorial document. The French photo artist had an infallible sense of composition and opportunity and left behind a historically laden body of iconic black and white photographs.

Henri Cartier-Bresson - Studies with André Lhote; passion for photography

Henri Cartier-Bresson was born in Chanteloup-en-Bire, Seine-et-Marne on 22 August 1908. The son of a prosperous textile manufacturer, he could choose any career path, but failed to graduate from the Lycée Condorcet. His early fascination with art took the form of painting, in particular Surrealism. Henri Cartier-Bresson studied with the Cubist André Lhote in Paris and turned to photography at the beginning of the 1930s; for his first large photo reportage, he spent a year on the Ivory Coast where he discovered the Leica as his camera of choice. His first solo exhibition opened as early as 1933 in the Julian Levy Gallery in New York and whilst the number of publications in magazines and in exhibitions grew, he gathered further experience with the photo pioneer Paul Strand and on several trips, including to London where he photographed the coronation of George VI in 1937. He also ventured into the turmoil of the Spanish Civil War with the journalist Herbert Kline to document the operations of the American Medical Bureau.

A single moment determines the quality of the picture

Henri Cartier-Bresson also garnered experience with moving pictures and worked on three films by the French film director Jean Renoir as his assistant, including the influential classic La Règle du Jeu. Cartier-Bresson himself as director was only responsible for documentaries as he did not permit himself sufficient creative power for a fictional work. However, he set standards as a photographer, whereby his theory of the decisive moment, postulated in 1952, achieved widespread impact and influenced many later photographers. In it, Cartier-Bresson emphasised that one could not learn photography, but must received it as a gift, as a writer of poetry. Luck and intuition belong to photography, but also the practised eye, the conscious choice of the appropriate perspective, an awareness of geometry and incidence of light. According to Cartier-Bresson, an important prerequisite for recognising the right moment is the choice of the correct location: familiarity with the surrounding area, taking advantage of local conditions – sometimes the difference between an average and a brilliant photo is only whether the photographer climbed up the wall in time. 

Chronicler of the Second World War; founder of the Magnum agency

In contrast to his sheltered childhood, Henri Cartier-Bresson experienced the horrors of the Second World War at first hand: he was captured as a prisoner of war, and after two failed attempts to escape, eventually arrived in Paris where he joined the photographers of the Resistance and documented the liberation from the National Socialist occupiers. There was the occasional rumour that he had been killed in the war, prompting the Museum of Modern Art to announce a ‘posthumous’ retrospective in his honour. Cartier-Bressonw was touched and offered his collaboration. In order to strengthen the rights of photographers to their own pictures, he founded the agency Magnum Photos in New York with three acclaimed colleagues, Robert Capra, David Seymour and George Rodger. In India he met Gandhi shortly before his murder, documented the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and was permitted as one of the first foreign photographer to enter the Soviet Union after the start of the Cold War. In 1955, Cartier-Bresson was the first photographer to be given the opportunity to display his pictures in the venerable Louvre Museum.

Henri Cartier-Bresson died on 3 August 2004 in Montjustin, Alpes-de-Haut-Provence. His wife, the Magnum photographer Martine Franck, took care of his artistic estate with the Fondation Henri-Cartier-Bresson.

© Kunsthaus Lempertz

Henri Cartier-Bresson Prices

ArtistArtworkPrice
Henri Cartier-BressonOn the Rhine river€7.502
Henri Cartier-BressonBelgien€7.140
Henri Cartier-BressonMexico€6.875
Henri Cartier-BressonUn eunuque de la Cour Impériale de la dernière Dynastie, Pékin, Chine€6.448
Henri Cartier-BressonUntitled (Riverbank)€6.344
Henri Cartier-BressonBingen€6.292

Henri Cartier-Bresson - Current offers and reference objects