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July 14, 2018

27 Stunning Black and White Photographs That Capture Everyday Life in France in the 1930s and 1940s

Émile Savitry, born Dupont in 1903 in Saïgon was first a painter, but he had “more than meets the eye” as Claude Roy wrote it in 1972. Indeed, he “painted, took pictures, traveled. But what he was not interested in was success.” This is probably the reason why his work had a hard time to win recognition.

He studied at the Valence Fine Arts School and at the School of Decorative Arts in Paris. In 1929, he exhibited his paintings, at Zborowski’s parisian gallery and was presented by Aragon who also prefaced the catalogue. The exhibition was a success, but Savitry, friend of painters and surrealists, like André Derain, Victor Brauner, Óscar Domínguez, Anton Prinner, Georges Malkine, and Robert Desnos, liked to roam the world. He thus decided with Georges Malkine to move to the Pacific Islands to “smile to the Maohris” and devote himself to photography from then on.

Back in France in 1930, he disembarked in Toulon where he met the Manouche guitarist Django Reinhardt, who played music in cafés with his brother. Savitry took them to Paris to introduce them to the world of jazz. In the 1930s, Savitry took pictures in Le Tabou, La Rose Rouge, and in clubs of Pigalle but also in the cafés Le Dôme and La Coupole, the meeting places of artists, writers and intellectuals from all over the world. He was one of them, a Parnassian by heart. He met the Groupe Octobre, the Prévert brothers, Raymond Bussière, Paul Grimault, and Marcel Duhamel. Jacques Prévert and Savitry became close friends, and on the occasion of his last painting exhibition in Antibes in 1963, Prévert will pay him a tribute in a poem.

A special correspondent in his spare time, he photographed the Spanish refugees who migrated to Perpignan after the fall of Barcelona in 1939. After the war Savitry helped Raymond Grosset restart the Agence Rapho where he was working, since 1933 with Brassaï, Ylla and Ergy Landau. Latter joined by Willy Ronis, Robert Doisneau.

After years of collaboration with the fashion magazines Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, and Le Jardin des Modes, he took many pictures of artists and their works, of actors, and of writers: Giacometti, Prinner, Brauner, Charlie Chaplin, Edith Piaf, Brigitte Bardot at age 18, Colette, etc.

Surprised by illness, Emile Savitry, “unspecialized life worker” as Claude Roy called him, finished his life doing what he did to start his career, as a painter “too much alive to want to be an artist.”



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