Gisèle Freund

February 7, 2010By Heidi EllisonArchive

Paris Update Art Notes


Paris-Update- James Joyce Paris 1939 c Gisele Freund

James Joyce, Paris, 1939 © Gisèle Freund/IMEC/Fonds MCC

Gisèle Freund (1908-2000) seems to have been born under a lucky star. As a young Jewish woman, she left Germany in 1933 to study in Paris and then escaped the grasp of the Nazis again during World War II by moving from France to Argentina. In between those two events, she had another stroke of unwitting good luck one day when she wandered into the Librairie Adrienne Monnier on the Rue de l’Odéon in Paris. Monnier not only befriended her but also introduced her to her companion, Sylvia Beach, who owned the English-language bookstore Shakespeare and Company across the street. Through the two booksellers, Freund met the literary lights of the day, among them a certain James Joyce, as well as André Gide, Jean Cocteau, Colette, Jean-Paul Sartre, Walter Benjamin and many others. Her career as a portraitist began when André Malraux commissioned her to take book-jacket photos of him. On the strength of that, she was able to convince other luminaries to sit for her. In 1938, she began using color film, sneered at by professionals at the time but one of the elements that gives her pensive portraits of these writers their special quality. The only people who didn’t like these definitive images seem to have been the subjects themselves – “I should have shaved that day,” said George Duhamel on seeing his, while André Maurois took Freund to task for not photographing him when he was 20 years younger. Only 10 days remain to see an exhibition of Freund’s portraits, “Gisèle Freund, L’Oeil Frontière, Paris 1933-1940,” along with an atmospheric re-creation of the two bookstores on the Rue de l’Odéon at the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent (3, rue Léonce Reynaud, 75116 Paris; tel.: 1 44 31 64 31), through Jan. 29. Heidi Ellison


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