André Kertész

Date/place of birth

July 2, 1894, Budapest, Hungary

Day/place of death

September 28, 1985, New York, United States

André Kertész - Untitled (Three stage sets designed by Piet Mondrian for 'L'éphémère est )éternel'
André Kertész - Untitled (Three stage sets designed by Piet Mondrian for 'L'éphémère est )éternel'

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André Kertész biography

André Kertész was a guide and a crosser of borders; born in Hungary, he accomplished the difficult dichotomy between Surrealism and New Objectivity with playful ease, always preserving the intuitive spontaneity that distinguishes this truly gifted artist. He thus shaped the style of artistic photography for several decades up until his death.

André Kertész – Photographic forays through Budapest, witness of war

André Kertész was born on 2 July 1894 in Budapest, at that time part of Austria-Hungary. The third of three sons of the Jewish book dealer Lipót Kertész and his wife Ernesztin, André was, according to his father’s wishes, to become a banker, and with this aim, attended the Academy of Commerce, successfully graduating in 1912 and going on to work on the stock exchange. He bought his first camera in the same year, a cheap model, and taught himself photography. One of his earliest pictures, Schlafender Junge, was taken on one of his forays through the streets of Budapest. He was called up as a soldier for the First World War in 1915 and with his camera, documented the everyday life of the war in Italy, Bosnia, Albania and Rumania. Even these early works, created under adverse conditions, suggest the great compositional talent of the image-seeker Kertész. As early as 1916 he was awarded a prize for a self-portrait; it would not be his last. In 1917 his first photographs were published in the magazine Érdekes Újság. Following his early successes however, in 1918 André Kertész suffered a severe setback with the loss of the majority of his prints and negatives (which at that time were on glass). The artist did not let this get him down however, and carried on – not in Budapest, but in Paris.

Difficult and successful years in Paris

André Kertész hoped to sell his photographs to the many magazines in Paris, the growing success of which brought the need for good pictures. However, despite amicable contact with artists such as Piet Mondrian, Fernand Léger, Man Ray and Brassaï, the young photographer found it difficult to gain a foothold in the French cultural metropolis. This was probably also to do with the nature of his pictures: they often, perhaps too often, had a gloomy appearance, were often taken in the rain and depicted Parisian streets, the lives of the workers, the goings-on of the night owls. He took part in the Salon De l’Escalier and worked for the large-format photographic magazine, VU, founded by Lucien Vogel. From an artistic point of view, these works by André Kertész were so enormously style-forming that today’s viewer hardly perceive the revolutionary – the technique of the innovative Hungarian has become too self-evident. In 1929 he was able to sell his work to Museums in Berlin and Zwickau.

Escape to New York, international breakthrough

National Socialist activities drove the Jewish André Kertész to New York where he had been offered a lucrative position at the Keystone agency. Together with his wife, he followed this call, but was disappointed to find that the promised work as photographer only consisted of bland commissions and that nobody was interested in his artistic projects. A further setback was the loss of his negatives which he had to leave behind in Paris, and which became victim of the chaos of the war. From 1949 to 1962 he worked almost exclusively for the established Condé-Nast publishing house, until health issues forced him to end his permanent contract. He remained nevertheless artistically active until his death, making his international breakthrough in 1964 with the John Szarowski curated exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Free from all financial worries, Kertész was then able to dedicate himself entirely to his artistic ambitions.

André Kertész died on 28 September 1985 in New York.

© Kunsthaus Lempertz

André Kertész Prices

André KertészUntitled (Three stage sets designed by Piet Mondrian for 'L'éphémère est )éternel'€21.080
André KertészMELANCHOLIC TULIP€7.865
André KertészChristopher Street, New York€7.500
André KertészSatiric Dancer, Paris€6.200
André KertészSatiric Dancer€6.125
André KertészMelancholic Tulip€5.368

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