Yvon's Paris

by Beatrice Thornton




Like almost everything else today, the humble postcard isn’t what it used to be. In early 20th-century Paris, for instance, a photographer known as Yvon, born Pierre Yves Petit, turned out simple postcards with scenic views of his city that today class him as a true flaneur d’entre-guerre Paris along with Eugene Atget,Brassai and Andre Kertesz.

Currently on view at Higher Pictures on Madison Avenue is an exhibition of 40 gelatin silver prints made by Yvon between 1918 and 1939 from glass-plate negatives, the vintage prints that Yvon used to produce his rotogravure-printed postcards.

Yvon launched his postcard business in order to take advantage of the increasing tourism in Paris, operating Editions d’art d’Yvon from his family’s apartment in Neuilly-sur-Seine. He included his signature on his postcards, reflecting an early understanding of brand marketing. And he took his pictures early or late in the day when the sky was at its most dramatic, and his scenes would convey romantic, melancholic and even playful moods.

In many of Yvon’s images it is not uncommon to see landmarks such as Sacre Coeur or the Louvre looming in the background while life, often blurred, passes in the foreground. His postcards serve as mementos not only of the city’s buildings, gardens and monuments, but also of Paris’ celebrated street life.

Accompanying the exhibition is the book Yvon’s Paris (W.W. Norton, $40) by New York City photo historian Robert Stevens, a longtime picture editor at Timemagazine who teaches at the International Center of Photography and the School of Visual Arts. A collector of vintage postcards of Paris since the 1980s, Stevens discovered that many were marked with the name “Yvon,” and found the original prints at the Editions d’Yvon archive — the company is still in business but now specializes in greeting cards. The book reproduces more than 70 works.

Successful art inspires a bit of covetousness, and so the next time I find myself in Paris my first stop shall undoubtedly be a seller of vintage cartes postales at Saint Ouen’s marche aux puces, or perhaps a bearded, bespectacled bouquiniste (one of Yvon’s favorite subjects and, sadly, one that may well soon disappear into history), in hopes of tracking down my own “Yvon.”

The photographs on view are priced from $2,000 to $4,000 and range in size from 3 x 5 in. to 5 x 7 in.

“Yvon’s Paris: Vintage Photographs from the 1920s,” Dec. 16, 2010-Jan. 29, 2011, at Higher Pictures, 764 Madison Avenue (at 65th Street), New York, N.Y. 10065.


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