The Director’s Archive: Robert Doisneau, 1992

One of the most popular exhibitions over the past fifty years at Modern Art Oxford was that of the celebrated French humanist photographer Robert Doisneau (1912 – 1994) in 1992.  

For those of us growing up in the 1980s and ’90’s who postered our bedrooms with his iconic images, such as Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville (The Kiss) (1950), his works bring back strong waves of nostalgia: specific memories and feelings long left behind that blend with the timeless and universal.  

The exhibition, which was the first solo retrospective of the photographer outside of France, was curated by Peter Hamilton in close collaboration with the photographer, and was a sensation, attracting audiences of millions as it toured.  In a letter in our archive to Peter Hamilton, Doisneau expresses his astonishment at the great fame and critical interest his work had attracted in recent decades.  He said ‘To my great surprise, the third age has just landed on my shoulders.’ 

Referring to the accusations by some (that even resulted in his being taken to court for photographing them without their consent), he said ‘Its true, I will admit, that I gently took hold of the treasures that some of my contemporaries were carrying about quite unawares…I comfort myself with the thought of all those seeds gleaned by chance from such days, which perhaps will flower in the hearts of new friends.’ 

The gentle thief died just 18 months after the Modern Art Oxford show.

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