First painter and then photographer, Émile Savitry makes the artistic and cultural life of Saint-Germain-des-Prés and Montparnasse districts the privileged frame for his shots. Artists’ studios, jazz cellars, café terraces and restaurants on the Left Bank are the theatre for his human comedies.

Humanist photography in post-war Paris

Along with Robert Doisneau, Willy Ronis and Brassaï, Émile Savitry is one of the main representatives of the French humanist photography movement. The photographer rubbed shoulders with all the artists, writers and intellectuals of post-war Paris. It was at the Café du Dôme, La Coupole, La Rotonde and the Carrefour Vavin that he met Jacques Prévert, Paul Grimault, Alberto Giacometti, Anton Prinner, Victor Brauner and Oscar Dominguez, all of whom were decisive for Savitry.

Savitry : witness of the evenings of Saint-Germains-des-Prés

Equipped with his Rolleiflex and covered by a polo coat, he photographed the bohemian Paris of the Left Bank. Émile Savitry is fascinated by the more or less clandestine parties in Saint-Germain-des-Prés: at the Lorientais and theTabou. As a reporter for the weekly magazine Point de Vue, he entered the smoke-filled halls of the Lorientais and photographed the bobby soxers as well as the students of La Sorbonne and SciencesPo dancing to the rhythm of New Orleans jazz.

Savitry also went to the rival club, the Tabou. In the post-war period, the Tabou was a dance and jazz club in the cellar of the Hôtel d’Aubusson at 33 rue Dauphine in Paris, at the corner of rue Christine. The cellar club became a favourite meeting place for night owls and intellectuals, as well as a hot spot for existentialists. Boris Vian played the trumpet there every night while Sartre, Camus, Merleau-Ponty, Queneau and Juliette Gréco were in the audience.

Foundation of the myth of the literary and artistic Left Bank

In the late 1940s and onwards, several generations of literary and artistic avant-garde people passed through Saint-Germain-des-Prés. A microcosm defined to the north by the Quai Malaquais, to the south by the rue des Saint-Pères, to the east by the rue du Vieux-Colombier and to the west by the rue du Dauphin. The myth of Saint-Germain-des-Prés was launched on 3 May 1947 by an article by Jacques Robert in Paris Soir: “the Tabou cellar, around two o’clock in the morning, is a mouth of Hell”. The article is a satire of the existentialists who populate the neighbourhood: “In spring and summer, from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., the existentialist takes a sunbath at Le Flore; at 1 a.m., lunch, usually on credit, in one of the neighbourhood bistros. One of these bistros, in the Rue Jacob, is familiarly called Les Assassins; from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m., coffee at Le Flore; from 6 to 6 ½ a.m., work; from 6 ½ to 8 a.m., Flore; from 8 a.m. to midnight: Bar Vert; from midnight to 10 a.m., Tabou.”

SAVITRY, Émile, phot. Self-Portrait. undated. 

SAVITRY, Émile, phot. Brumes nocturnes. Paris, France. undated. 

SAVITRY, Émile, phot. La Coupole bar at night. Paris, France. 1939. 

SAVITRY, Émile, phot. Claude Luter in the Caveau des Lorientais jazz club. rue des Carmes, Paris, France. 1948.

SAVITRY, Émile, phot. Le Tabou jazz club. rue Dauphine, Paris, France. 1947. 

SAVITRY, Émile, phot. Le Tabou jazz club. rue Dauphine, Paris, France. 1947. 

SAVITRY, Émile, phot. Alberto Giacometti in his studio. rue Hippolyte Maindron, Paris, France. 1946. 

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