Willy Ronis - PHOTOGRAPHS New York Friday, April 16, 2010 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist

  • Literature

    Taschen, Willy Ronis, cover and p. 38

  • Catalogue Essay

    Perhaps we have an invincible resistance to believing in the past, in History, except, in the form of myth. The Photograph, for the first time, puts an end to this resistance: henceforth the past is as certain as the present, what we see on paper is as certain as what we touch.
    Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida
    Celebrated for his classic black and white photographs of France, Willy Ronis’s images typify the exuberant vitality of French culture in the mid-20th century. Like his contemporaries, Ronis documented the unexpected moments, where observation and chance resulted in snapshots that highlight the understated elegance of everyday life.
    Born in 1910 to a Parisian household, Ronis first gained exposure to photography as a young apprentice at his father’s portrait studio. In the 1930’s, Ronis took on assignments as a photojournalist, pairing the technical skills he had learned at the studio with his ardent studying of the avant-garde styles showing in various galleries and bookshops across Paris. His works were published in weekly publications, and soon Ronis was represented by Rapho agency, joining luminaries such as Brassaï and Robert Doisneau. Lauded for his work, Ronis was awarded the Prix Kodak in 1947. Shortly thereafter, from 1948-1950, Ronis became the first French photographer to work for LIFE magazine, a period that he has once characterized as "the Golden Age," and which provided him with his first international platform.
    The exposure to the international community grew significantly when Edward Steichen, then Director of the Photographs Department at the Museum of Modern Art, invited Ronis in 1953 to participate in the MoMA show Five French Photographers, along with Izis, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Ronis’s two Rapho agency comrades— Brassaï and Doisneau. The same year, Steichen also published a portfolio featuring Ronis’s work in US Camera Annual. Moreover, so enthused was the famed American photographer and curator by his French counterpart’s work, that in 1955 he included Ronis’s Vincent aéromodéliste, Gordes (lot 183), in Family Of Man, undoubtedly one of the most important photography exhibitions of the twentieth-century. Two years later, Ronis was awarded the Gold Medal at the Venice Biennale.
    Despite the heightened level of intimacy conveyed in the images such as Les adieux du permissionaire (lot 189), and Les amoureaux de la Bastille, Paris (lot 190), Ronis often captured the fleeting moments from afar, thereby respecting his subjects’ privacy and ensuring that the spontaneous charm would not be compromised or eclipsed by potential self-consciousness. For being so seemingly close and so characteristically familiar, Ronis’s images became tangible in literal and figurative ways alike. That is, the scenes seem to be within reach as physical spaces as much as romanticized and endearing clichés, appearing immediately familiar without ever having been personally experienced by the viewers. Put more simply, one could call it photographic déjà vu.
    In some ways, it could be argued that in his search for the quintessentially French idiosyncrasies, Ronis was a reincarnation of Baudelaire’s 19th-century flâneur, the gentleman roaming the Parisian streets, absorbing the understated appeal in ordinary settings. The flâneur would seldom interact with others, but was in a continuous search of the social settings that reflected the city’s demographic and spirit. In that regard, Ronis’s stumbling into casual scenes embodying the Parisian lifestyle is a direct continuation of the practice initiated almost a century earlier by the first wave of flâneurs, namely, August Renoire, Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas. It was not gratuitous and selfish voyeurism, therefore, that propelled Ronis to record the city’s essential characters, but the wish to share and celebrate the love for the city.
    Throughout his career, Ronis went on to accumulate a myriad of accolades. Among his many awards are the Prix Nada in 1981; Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1985; Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in 1989; an honorary Doctorate from the University of Warwick in 1998; and Commandeur of the Ordre National du Mérite in 2001. Most recently, Ronis was honored for his lifetime achievement at the 5th Annual Lucie Awards in 2007.
    On September 12th, 2009, Ronis passed away at the age of 99, bequeathing his archive to the French State, which has since designated Ronis as a National Artist. Major retrospectives and forthcoming books will be ensuring his superb photographic legacy. It is also befitting that upon his passing, French President Nicolas Sarkozy labeled Ronis as "the poet of a simple and joyous life." Accordingly, it was a simple and joyous realist who created images that have long surpassed their materiality as photographs and morphed into timeless and majestic souvenirs of a bygone era.
    The realists, of whom I am one […] do not take the photograph for a ‘copy’ of reality, but for an emanation of reality: a magic, not an art.
    Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida



Marchands de frites, rue Rambuteau, Paris

Gelatin silver print, printed 2008.
16 5/8 x 13 1/4 in. (42.2 x 33.7 cm).
Signed in ink in the margin; initialed, annotated 'tirage 2008' in ink, titled, dated in pencil and copyright credit stamp on the verso.

$4,000 - 6,000 

Sold for $4,750


16 April 2010
New York