Exhibition: Doisneau and Music


Until April 28th 2019 – Musée de la musique – Cité de la Musique

Bringing together more than two hundred photographs this unique exhibition unveils the musical sense of Doisneau’s imagination.

« In my ideal photography school, there would be a bouquet teacher and a music teacher. We would not train violin virtuosos, but we would explain the role of music, which sheds light on past civilisations—a very necessary further education. »

Robert Doisneau was born outside Paris in 1912. Entering the École Estienne ( Graduate School of Arts and Printing Industry in the 13th district)  at age 15 to study engraving and lithography, he then began working as a label designer for the pharmaceutical industry. As a young assistant to André Vigneau, his exposure to artistic creation developed. After four years with the Renault advertising department, he achieved the coveted status of freelance photographer.

Les gitans de Montreuil, 1950 © Atelier Robert Doisneau

War brought his endeavours to a brutal halt, but in the euphoric years afterwards, success ensued. His œuvre grew as he obstinately kept up his walks through « areas where there is nothing to see », aiming to capture the fleeting moments, the tiny joys illuminated by rays of sun on city asphalt.

At his death in 1994, he left behind some 450,000 negatives depicting his era with a tender amusement that must not veil the depth of reflection, insolence in the face of power and authority, and irreducible spirit of independence in his work.

With a Rolleiflex strapped over his shoulder, Robert Doisneau spent years exploring the outskirts of Paris on foot. Music is everywhere in the shots he took during these wanderings, and is a key element of his humanist look. For Doisneau, the love of music often led to a love of people, as shown in the series he created with Jacques Prévert and in the large gallery of amused, poetic portraits magnifying his cellist friend Maurice Baquet, his « teacher of happiness » as he said, for more than fifty years.

Rita Mitsouko au Parc de la Villette, 1988 © Atelier Robert Doisneau

The exhibition has 7 different parts : 1) The Street, 2) Song, 3) Studios, 4) Maurice Baquet, 5) Jazz, 6) 80’S/90’S, 7) Extension of the exhibition in the permanent collection (more Doisneau photos are interspersed throughout the permanent collection at the Musée de la musique, in an unorthodox arrangement.)

Review :
One of the best section is definitely part 1 with some fantastic photographs. An ethnologist of daily life, director of his own little theatre, Robert Doisneau spent a great deal of time walking throughout the southern suburbs of Paris where, at the time, music was everywhere. From musicians to brass bands, he sought to show all that gave the streets their festivity. Paris 5th is also wonderful with incredible shots of jazzmen. Doisneau frequently wandered around Paris’ Saint Germain, which he called « the new Montparnasse ». He spent nights following and photographying jazzmen who came to play in the basement nightclubs, such as Big Bill Broonzy, Mezz Mezzrow, Bill Coleman, Claude Luter, etc. The more modern part of the show is also very interesting with a more unknown side as we find out that Doisneau took pleasure in photographing a whole new generation of singers – whether for album or magazine covers like ActuelRita MitsoukoThe Négresses Vertes and Renaud count among them. Overall a brilliant exhibition to learn more about one of the most famous French photographers.


Don’t miss the wonderful catalogue of the exhibtion by Clémentine Deroudille, Doisneau’s grand-daughter and curator of the exhibition. Publisher : Flammarion. 29.90 euros.

Practical Information :

Cité de la musique – Philharmonie de Paris
221, avenue Jean-Jaurès
75019 Paris
Tuesday to Thursday : 12pm-6pm
Friday : 10am-8pm
Saturday & Sunday : 10am-6pm