Robert Doisneau at the Musée d’Ixelles

By Laura Smith

The French twentieth-century photographer Robert Doisneau has become synonymous with his image of Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville (1950), which shows a mise en scène of a couple embracing amidst the street’s hustle and bustle. Fans of Doisneau, or simply visitors of Paris, will recognize many of his black and white photographs from their popular postcard form, most notably his series of café scenes, scenes of daily life, of artists and children. The exhibition, now on at the Musée d’Ixelles, displays both classic and many lesser-known images of his black and white collections spanning roughly 1930-1970, alongside vibrant colourful photographs of Palm Springs, California in the 60’s.


The museum’s interior architecture, which allows for visits of a circular flow, supports the exhibition’s three movements; Le Merveilleux quotidien, which displays photographs including FFI au repos (1944) and La dernière valse du 14 juillet (1949), images of cafés, marriages, and glimpsed moments; Palm Springs 1960, a collection produced for the February 1961 issue of Fortune magazine that shows, in bright blues, yellows and soft pinks the leisure life of Americans on the golf course and by the pool side, and Ateliers d’artistes, which allows for a view inside the studios of Picasso, Utrillo, Giacometti, Le Corbusier and many others. Particular delights from this last section include Tinguely – portrait de l’artiste (1959) and Niki de St Phalle (1971). For Doisneau fans, this exhibition is a chance to see gems from his collection (L’Atelier Robert Doisneau) and to discover unknown, surprising and impressive works by the artist. For those looking to get acquainted with the photographer’s work, this exhibition displays his ability to capture moments of socio-historical importance and the lifestyle of the everyday in Paris and Palm Springs. While the shift from the American golf course to the Parisian atelier at first felt like a cliché new-world/old-world dichotomy, the juxtaposition between the classic iconic black and white images with those vibrant photographs of Palm Springs—the latter of which is set against a wall of bubble-gum pink—highlights a continuity of striking composition and an attentiveness to daily gestures that connects such diverse contexts. Both the fan and the discoverer of Doisneau’s work come away from this exhibition with a renewed sense that it is in the mundane everyday that one catches glimpses of the joy, the humour, and the theatricality of life, if we are attentive. I myself found a new favourite image in, Fête à la maternelle de Gentilly (1934).

The Doisneau exhibition is on now and runs until 04.02.2018 at the Musée d’Ixelles (rue Jean Van Volsem 71, 1050 Bruxelles).