Our Artists

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson is a legendary figure in 20th Century photography. A pioneer of photojournalism alongside Walker Evans, Brassaï and Kertész, he travelled a great deal and observed the great events that marked the century. He was very keen on documenting life in the streets and was also the inventor of the “decisive moment” concept. In 1947 he founded the famous cooperative agency Magnum Photos with Robert Capa, David Seymour, William Vandivert and George Rodger. In 2003, with Martine Franck, his wife, and Mélanie, his daughter, he founded the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation in Paris to preserve and display his work and to support and exhibit other photographers.


One of the pioneers of photojournalism

After his secondary education at the Lycée Condorcet in Paris, Henri Cartier-Bresson developed a passion for painting and the surrealists. He studied painting with André Lhote. In 1931, he set off on an adventure to the Ivory Coast, where he took his first photographs. From then on, he travelled a great deal: in Europe, Mexico, the United States, India, China, Indonesia, Japan, Cuba, USSR, etc.

During his stay in the United States in 1935, he took his first photographs of New York and was introduced to the cinema with Paul Strand. In 1936, he was second assistant to Jean Renoir for Une Partie de Campagne.  In 1938, he assisted him again for La Règle du Jeu.

In 1937, he produced a documentary on the hospitals of Republican Spain, Victoire de la Vie, and another documentary for the “Secours Rouge”, L’Espagne Vivra.

In 1940, he was imprisoned by the Germans. He managed to escape in February 1943 and took part in the MNPGD, an underground movement that helped prisoners and escapees. He produced portraits of artists and writers for the publishers Braun:
Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Bonnard, Claudel, Rouault...
In 1944-45, he joined a group of professionals who were photographing the Liberation of Paris and produced Le Retour, a documentary about the repatriation of prisoners of war and deportees.

In 1947, he founded the cooperative agency Magnum Photos with Robert Capa, David
Seymour, William Vandivert and George Rodger. He left Magnum in 1966 but the agency retained the right to use his archives.

Between 1948 and 1950, he travelled in the East: in India on the death of Gandhi, in China for the first six months of the Kuomintang and the first six months of the People’s Republic of China, and in Indonesia at the time of its independence. He then returned to Europe. He was the first photographer to be admitted to the USSR after the détente.

In 1958-59, he went back to China for the tenth anniversary of the People’s Republic.

In 1963, he returned to Mexico, then Life Magazine sent him to Cuba.
In 1965, he travelled to Japan, then, in 1966, returned to India.

In 1967, he was given a commission by IBM for a study of Man and the Machine. Later, in the United States, he produced two documentaries for CBS News.

In 1972, he returned to the USSR.

Exhibitions and major publications

- 1932: exhibition in the Julien Levy Gallery in New York. His photographs were then displayed at the Club Atheneo in Madrid. Charles Peignot published them in “Arts et Métiers Graphiques”.

- 1965: exhibition with Manuel Alvarez Bravo at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico.

- 1946: trip to the United States to help set up the exhibition organised by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

- 1952: publication of his first book “Images à la Sauvette” with a cover by Matisse.

- 1954: publication of Danses à Bali by Delpire with a text by Antonin Arthaud on Balinese theatre.

- 1955: first exhibition in France at the Pavillon de Marsan, in the Louvre, which travelled worldwide. Published Les Européens with a cover by Miro.

- 1969: trip through France for the Reader’s Digest Selection and publication of Vive la France, accompanied by an exhibition held at the Grand Palais in 1970.

- 1975: first exhibition of drawings at the Carlton Gallery in New York.

The humanist photographer

From 1974, Henri Cartier-Bresson dedicated himself to drawing, photographic portraits and landscapes. 

He said: “For me, the camera is a sketchbook, the instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the moment. He is said to have invented the concept of “the decisive moment”.

The eye of the century

For Henri Cartier-Bresson, “Taking photographs [...] means putting the head, the eye and the heart on the same sight line.”

Pierre Assouline, in Henri Cartier-Bresson, l’œil du siècle, added: “The 20th Century has been the century of images (…). Telling the story of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s life and explaining his work means first of all writing the history of a way of looking at life.”

Awards and tributes

- 1981: he was awarded the National Grand Prize for Photography at the Ministry of Culture in Paris.
- 1986: he was awarded the Novecento Prize in Palermo.
- 1987: the Museum of Modern Art in New York organised the Early Works exhibition.
- 1988: the National Photography Centre paid tribute to him.
- 2000: Henri Cartier-Bresson, his wife Martine Franck and their daughter Mélanie decided to set up the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation to gather his work together and create an exhibition area open to other artists. The was recognised in 2002 as beneficial to the public at large.
- 2003: The retrospective “De qui s’agit-il ?” was set up at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation was opened.


Henri Cartier-Bresson’s works are displayed in many museums worldwide. Some of them have the "Master Collection": 385 prints put together in 1979 by Henri Cartier-Bresson himself:
- The Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, France
- The Menil Collection, Houston, Texas, USA.
- The University of Fine Arts , Osaka, Japan.
- The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, United Kingdom.

Other museums that offer a large collection of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s works:

- The Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, France
- The Musée Carnavalet, Paris, France
- The Museum of Modern Art, New York, United States
- The Art Institute of Chicago, United States
- The Getty Museum, Los Angeles, United States
- The International Centre of Photography, New York, United States
- The Philadelphia Art Institute, Philadelphia, United States
- The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, United States
- The Kahitsukan Kyoto Museum of Contemporary Art, Kyoto, Japan
- The Museum of Modern Art, Tel Aviv, Israel
- The Stockholm Modern Museet, Sweden


>> For a schedule of the exhibitions dedicated to Cartier-Bresson, see:

The Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation website

The Magnum agency website

Useful links

The Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation

The Magnum agency

Henri Cartier-Bresson on the Magnum website

Henri Cartier-Bresson 's products at Nouvelles Images

> Prints and posters

Prints and posters Alberto Giacometti Prints and posters Pierre Bonnard, painter, Le Cannet, 1951 Prints and posters Sifnos, Greece, 1961 Prints and posters Derrière la gare Saint-Lazare, Paris, 1932

> Postcards

Postcards Serbia, 1965 Postcards Alberto Giacometti Postcards Alberto Giacometti Postcards Paris 1973

> Greeting cards

Greeting cards Boulevard Diderot / Paris 1969

Nationality(ies) : French
Born on : 22/08/1908
Died on : 03/08/2004
Profile : Illustrator
Artistic current(s) : Humanist Photography, Photojournalism
Theme(s) covered : Details, Events, Landscapes - Nature, Policy, Portraits - Characters, Travel

Henri Cartier-Bresson