On this day in 1912, Robert Doisneau was born in the Parisian suburb of Gentilly. If Robert Doisneau’s assignment for LIFE in June 1950, known as The Kiss by the Hotel de Ville, has been widely reproduced and is world renowned, his other works are not just amusing, anecdotal, or pleasant instances of life.
In 1939, after being fired from the French automaker Renault’s photography department for repeated lateness, Doisneau became an independent photographer with the Rapho Agency, to which he remained faithful throughout his lifetime. During the war, he got involved in the Resistance; even if the agency had to stop its activities, he never stopped taking pictures in the countryside–where he went into exile for a while–and in Paris during the Occupation and the Libération. At the end of the war, he started to work for LIFE and had a few fashion assignments for French Vogue.
Robert Doisneau, Paris, ca. 1943
Robert Doisneau, [Sleeping in a theater], ca. 1944
Robert Doisneau, [Potato distribution, Paris], ca. 1944
Robert Doisneau, [Due to paper rationing for election publicity, communist candidate Leon Maurais chalked onto a street in his political district during first postwar elections, France], 1945
Robert Doisneau, Armand Fèvre–Man of the Past. The stairs which lead to the Square du Vert Galant, near the Pont Neuf, on the Seine quays, 1949
The story behind this intriguing photograph and its caption, Man of the Past, was a major topic in international magazines, newspapers, and radio in 1949, for its peculiar main character. For M. Armand Fèvre who was wearing a frock coat, top hat, and large sideburns, the time had stopped at the First Empire. Being the great grandson of a Napoleon’s officer, he claimed to be a Bonapartist. In the Latin Quarter and on the street where he was living, rue Bonaparte, Armand Fèvre naturally aroused both wonderment and mockery by his neighbors.
Pierre Merindol, one of Doisneau journalist friends, actually provoked him once by writing a witty article about eccentric characters and portrayed Fèvre as a “dehydrated personage.” The joke went so far that Fèvre himself challenged Merindol to a duel with cutlasses, which the journalist accepted. Doisneau, who already took pictures of Armand Fèvre for the “Man of the Past” story in LIFE on April 18 1949, also covered the dual. On May 2, 1949, LIFE published the article “A Bonapartist’s honor” with three photographs by Doisneau of this dual.
A year later, while photographing the “small trades” under the guidance of Robert Giraud, another close friend of Doisneau and Merindol, Irving Penn depicted Armand Fèvre, under the caption “The Fool” or “The Last Bonapartist.”