A man is known worldwide for his art during his lifetime, and even a century after his death, he is hardly known for his origins. This is somewhat similar to the fate of the great photographer Pierre Dubreuil, who was born in Lille 150 years ago. With the retrospective that the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille is currently devoting to him, we inform you about his story, career and originality.
De Gaulle, everyone knows he was born in Vieux-Lille. We do not know that a few years before him, the great artist was also born in the same city. It was exactly 150 years ago, in 1872, and his name was Pierre Dubreuil.
Little Pierre comes from a wealthy family that works in the wallpaper business. At the age of sixteen, he entered the Collège Saint-Joseph, located on the corner of rue Solfe and boulevard Vauban (now Saint-Paul Collège). And at the same age, he discovered an art that was rapidly developing at that time: photography. Cameras become portable and teenagers buy them as gifts.
But Pierre Dubreuil falls in love not with the object, but with the art. The development of technology allowed photography to be democratized, but the young man from Lille quickly turned to portraiture. This is an artistic movement that clearly emphasizes the aesthetic nature of photography: those who adhere to it want to show that photography is not only about replicating reality. Like a painting, a photograph can be a work of art with the artist’s precise vision behind it.
“Let’s learn a lot and above all be persistent, this will be our motto and the only way to reach the goal we are looking for: to make all our photos a true work of art..” These words come from 28-year-old Pierre Dubreuil. We are then in 1900, and he already has a small reputation in Lille and even in Paris, where he makes himself known by exhibiting five of his works at the Photo Club of the capital.
He has also been part of the Lille photography community for nearly ten years, where he has held many meetings and collaborations. He teaches, organizes exhibitions, writes the newsletter Nord Photographe and helps establish other photography societies in the area. In short, he is not unemployed and lives for photography.
around the world
His fame and fascination with new techniques would even take him far from France. In 1901, he left London for a while to find inspiration. And take the opportunity to be elected a member of the great Royal Brotherhood: the British society that promotes photography as both an art and a science. On his return to the north, he settled again in a cottage built in the pure English architectural style on the Avenue Saint-Maur, near La Madeleine.
A few years later, around 1908, he left her to move to Paris. But he eventually returns to Lille after two years (as do all the Ch’ti who actually go to the capital). He perfected his craft and, above all, demonstrated an avant-gardism that was recognized as far away as the United States. In 1910 he sent twelve prints to the very famous American photographer Alfred Stieglitz. A nerve that has been paying since half will be exhibited at a major international photo exhibition in Buffalo. This is our world famous Stone.
War, looting and confusion
And then another world happens: the Great War of 14-18. The resident of Lille simply stopped photography from that moment. He enlists as an ambulance driver and is unable to prevent his studio in Lille from being looted by German soldiers. Later, it will be necessary to wait until 1923 for him to pick up a camera.
The painting is finished there. He also graduated from France. The photographer moved to Belgium in 1924 and settled in Brussels. He opened a tobacconist’s shop there to make ends meet while continuing to pursue photography. His art was later infused with the Belgian surrealism of the time, and he tried his hand at blurred rendering, which he likes to say.twist“. He is still well known in the art world and, moreover, in 1932 he became president of the Belgian photographic and cinematographic association. He even continued to show across the Channel, but the war again put his career in full swing.
Alone, sick and penniless, in 1943 he decided to sell his negatives and photographic archives to the Belgian company Gevaert. It’s a very bad idea for generations, because the latter is bombarded after a while. His life’s work gone, the Lille resident died the following year in Grenoble at the age of 71.
Original, avant-garde, innovative, singular, pioneering, modern, provocative, controversial… All these adjectives can define Pierre Dubreuil. We invite you to discover more about his life and work at the Palais des Beaux Arts in Lille. The museum is exhibiting seventy-four of the photographer’s works there until February 27, 2023, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the photographer’s birth in Lille. The retrospective is only possible thanks to the American collector Tom Jacobson.
The latter donated not the originals, but modern prints taken from Dubreuil’s 1930s slides before his negatives were lost. The exhibition, christened “Photographic Paintings”, chronologically follows the career of the Lille resident, who often disturbed his time with some of his photographs. A forgotten course that no longer really exists.
“Pierre Dubreuil, Tableaux Photographiques” will be on view at Lille Beaux-Arts until February 27, 2023. Entrance to the exhibition is included in the entrance ticket.
To write this article, we relied on:
- An exhibition dedicated to the artist at the PBA in Lille
- This article from La Voix du Nord