Painting by Henri Cartier-Bresson; a nude in the studio of André Lhote. Oil on canvas, 1927
As a young man of 19, Henri Cartier-Bresson entered the Lhote Academy to study painting. The Academy was run by the Cubist painter André Lhote who wanted “to integrate the Cubists’ approach to reality with classical artistic forms.”
Lhote taught a strict regime of geometric analysis of form and employed ancient systems of proportion including the Golden Section. It was an academic approach that resulted in pictures of cool classicism with solid, structured compositions. Some Australian modernists studied at the Academy including Grace Crowley and Dorrit Black, as well as the famed Art Deco portraitist Tamara de Lempicka. I wonder if they met.
These two paintings are about all that is left of that period since Cartier-Bresson destroyed most of his early efforts. After his hunting sojourn in Africa, he turned his back on painting and applied his Lhote Academy skills to photography. His life’s work is marked by the sophistication of his compositions.
At about the same time he was making contact with the Surrealists, attending meetings that included André Breton and Salvador Dali. It is this contrasting influence on the young Cartier-Bresson that helps to explain the amazing sense of timing and coincidence that particularly marks his early work. “What fit in best with his own libertarian temperament and his endless marvel at the surprises of life, was surrealism’s recourse to intuition and spontaneity.” (artesmagazine.com)