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Brassaï: The Eye of Paris to open at The J. Paul Getty Museum April 13 - July 3, 1999

Major Survey of Celebrated Photographer's Work Features Rarely Seen Photographs, Drawings, and Sculpture

April 6, 1999

Los Angeles, CA - On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the photographer Brassaï's birth, the J. Paul Getty Museum presents Brassaï: The Eye of Paris, the first major U.S. survey of the artist's career in three decades. This landmark exhibition of 110 photographs, drawings, and sculpture is the first to gather works in the principle media in which the artist worked. The exhibition draws from more than 40 collections throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan, including 13 photographs from the Getty's collection. Brassaï: The Eye of Paris is on view at the Getty Center from April 13 to July 3, 1999.

A culmination of many years of research by Anne Wilkes Tucker, the Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator of Photography at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the exhibition has been organized by the MFAH with funding from The Brown Foundation, Inc., Houston Endowment Inc., The Wortham Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. The installation of the exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum has been directed by Julian Cox, Assistant Curator of Photographs.

Brassaï: The Eye of Paris was first shown at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, December 6, 1998 through February 28, 1999. After its run at the Getty, it will be on view at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., October 17, 1999 through January 16, 2000.

"The exhibition is a well-deserved survey of the career of Brassaï, one of the great photographers of the 20th century," said Deborah Gribbon, Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the J. Paul Getty Museum. "We are pleased that the show is coming to the Getty so that visitors from Los Angeles will have the opportunity to see not only works from our own photographs collection, but also works from collections around the world."

This exhibition explores Brassaï's working methods, which are essential to understanding his art. Eschewing the spontaneity of many journalist-photographers," Brassaï approached his subjects with an eye toward telling a story. Manipulating reality was crucial to him in making pictures that look like slices of real life, but were sometimes quite the opposite. "Brassaï was a master at weaving truth and fiction by skillfully mixing authentic players with posed models," said Weston Naef, Curator of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Brassaï fully developed ideas and themes through making in-depth, cohesive, and interlocking series of images over time. They are presented in this exhibition under the following headings: Early Work; The Human Figure; Paris by Night; Secret Paris; Portraits; The Nude; Society; Graffiti; Paris by Day; and The Traveler's Eye. Several of these series have neither been exhibited in the last three decades nor published since the 1950s.

"Brassaï had the ability to identify iconic moments," said Anne Wilkes Tucker. "He made pictures that are as interesting to us today as they were 40 years ago because they are about timeless kinds of things. Brassaï could distill a subject to its essence and make an everyday event worthy of our attention."

As early as 1934, Brassaï was dubbed "the eye of Paris" in an essay by his friend, American writer Henry Miller. His classic and widely acclaimed Paris de nuit (Paris by Night) series, photographed during his nighttime wanderings with the famous Paris "pedestrian" and poet Léon-Paul Fargue and other friends, is a highlight of the exhibition. Light and shadow set the mood of these evocative photographs of night workers, streets, buildings, and bridges. Backlighting contours stately silhouettes in Statue of Marshall Ney, Paris, 1932 and Saint Germain des Prés Church, Paris, 1939; streetlights create a painterly chiaroscuro in Lighting the Lamps at Dusk on the Place de la Concorde, Paris, 1932-33; and fog captures bridge-lamps in the stillness and quietude of night in Pont Neuf and Trees along Quay, Paris, 1932 and Pont Neuf, Paris, 1949.

Brassaï ardently explored the subjects of high and low culture in his photographic series Secret Paris and Society, as well as in his writing. Brassaï consciously made his series on Parisian high society, ballet, and opera in distinct counterpoint to his famous chronicle of the Parisian underworld.

Photographs of social soirées such as Evening at Longchamp Racetrack, Paris, 1938 and Gala Soirée, Maxim's, Paris, 6 May 1949 contrast sharply with Magic-City Dance Hall, Cognacq-Jay Street, Paris, c. 1932 and Conchita with Sailors, Place d'Italie, c. 1933. An intriguing comparison also appears between the refined masquerades of high society, shown in Parisian, Masked Ball at Pré Catelan, Bois de Boulogne, Paris, July 1946, and the raucous and risqué carnivals of the Parisian working classes and subcultures, shown in Wanda, Street Carnival, Paris, 1951. Pictures of children, like the delighted little boy in Balloon Seller, Montsouris Park, Paris, 1931-34 contrast with the dark underworld Brassaï frequented during the same period.

Brassaï's incisive portraits of his friends -- artists, writers, and intellectuals of Paris -- are also on view in the exhibition. In these formal portraits, Brassaï captures the character and intensity of such artists as Salvador Dali, Alberto Giacometti, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Hans Reichel, and Germaine Richier, and such writers as Fargue, Jean Genet, Henri Michaux, and Henry Miller.

While Brassaï was embraced by the social circles of the Parisian intellectual and upper classes, his joy in the commonplace and compassion for the every man is reflected throughout the exhibition. Everyday events in the artist's photographs range from the playful Police Outside the "Chat qui Pelote," near Les Halles Market, Paris, 1939, to the clandestine, in Two Hoodlums, Place d'Italie, Paris, 1931-32, to the capricious, in Kiss on Swing at a Street Fair, 1935-37. The artist's subtle humor is revealed in Napoleon in Front of an Antique Shop, French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1957, in which a Rubenesque passerby gives a sideways glance to a diminutive statue of Napoleon.

Brassaï's sensitivity to daily life also appears in his influential Graffiti series. In these photographs, Brassaï transforms graffiti -- common man's artwork -- into monumental, archetypal symbols by isolating and closely framing everyday scrawl. This series culminated in a book published in 1961 with an introduction by Picasso. Their friendship is represented in the exhibition by Brassaï's portraits of Picasso and photographs of his sculpture.

Brassaï (1899-1984) was born Gyula Halász in Brasso, Transylvania, Hungary (now Romania) and after emigrating to Paris in 1924, he worked as a journalist. He began taking photographs in 1929 to create a book that had been forming in his imagination. At that time he changed his name to Brassaï, which means "from Brasso."

Except for an interlude during World War II, Brassaï worked as a freelance magazine photographer and writer for publications including Minotaure, Verve, Coronet, Picture Post, and Harper's Bazaar. Through the late 1960s, he continued working with Harper's Bazaar, traveling extensively on assignment. Many of his photographs made in England, Spain, the United States, and Brazil were published in magazine articles during his lifetime, but are virtually unknown today.

The artist was awarded the first Grand Prix National de la Photographie in Paris (1978), the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres (1974), and the Chevlier de l'Ordre de la Legion d' Honneur (1976). At the time of his death in 1984, Brassaï had published 17 books and hundreds of articles, and held numerous exhibitions of his photographs, sculpture, and drawings. His film, Tant qu'il aura des bêtes, 1955, won the prize for Most Original Film at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.

On May 20, 1999, at 7:00 pm, Anne Wilkes Tucker will present a lecture, Brassaï: The Eye of Paris, in the Harold M. Williams Auditorium of the Getty Center. Call 310 440-7300 for information and reservations.

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