Viewing Room

Staff Feature: Brassai’s Fille de Joie, Quartier d’Italie, 1932

Staff Feature: Brassai’s Fille de Joie, Quartier d’Italie, 1932

20th April 2020

This week Amy Tibble has chosen Brassai’s Fille de Joie, Quartier d’Italie, 1932.

Given the name, ‘The Eye of Paris’, by Picasso and writer, Henry Miller, Brassai was fascinated with capturing the gritty underbelly of Paris. At a time where his contemporaries, such as Robert Doisneau, were photographing Paris as the ‘city of love’, Brassai was depicting the rough and raucous side of the city as it transitioned from the Belle Epoque era to the Modern, a time when old and new ways of life were clashing.

Photography often represents things at their most idealised, so this print by Brassai is humorously absurd in its authenticity. The title ‘Fille de Joie’ translates directly into English as ‘Girl of Joy’ but is in fact the colloquialism for ‘prostitute’. Here Brassai presents us with a rather comical contrast to the ‘girl of joy’. In a tattered shirt and jumper, hand on hip, cigarette in mouth, bag under arm, she seems rather more threatening or indifferent than seductive. The composition is no coincidence. While Brassai walked the streets looking for such subjects, photographing at night was technically difficult and he frequently posed his subjects to allow for lighting.

Part of the joy one gets looking at Brassai’s work is his glorification of the people on the fringes of society. In the words of his widow, Gilberte Brassai; he “devoted himself to photographing all sorts of human beings… and he loved to preserve their ceremonies and rites. He evoked les étranges moeurs des hommes.”

Acquired from the artist’s estate, this work was printed in the 1960s during the artist’s lifetime and stamped with the photographer’s copyright ink stamp verso. If you would like any further information please email, more works by the artist are available.