Henri Cartier-Bresson. Le Grand Jeu

Palazzo Grassi
11/07/2020 - 26/02/2021


From 11 to 26 February, Palazzo Grassi is open on Thursdays and Fridays. Free admission.

Palazzo Grassi presents ‘Henri Cartier-Bresson. Le Grand Jeu’, co-organised with the Bibliothèque nationale de France and in partnership with the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Based on a project conceived and coordinated by Matthieu Humery, the exhibition looks at how the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908 – 2004) is viewed by five different curators, focusing particularly on the ‘Master Collection’, a selection of 385 images that the artist himself chose in the early 1970s, upon the request of his friends and collectors Jean and Dominique de Menil, as the most significant of his work. Today there are five copies of this extraordinary set.

Photographer Annie Leibovitz, film director Wim Wenders, writer Javier Cercas, the General Conservator and Director of the Prints and Photography Department of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Sylvie Aubenas, and collector François Pinault have been invited to select fifty works each from the original ‘Master Collection’.

Through their selection, each curator shares his or her vision of this major artist’s photography and work. The scope of this unique project is thus to renew and enrich our view on Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work through the respective ones of five personalities.

The exhibition ‘Henri Cartier-Bresson. Le Grand Jeu’ will be presented at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, in Paris, in spring 2021.


Henri Cartier-Bresson was born in 1908 in Chanteloup, France. At an early age, he develops a strong interest in painting. In 1932, after spending a year in Ivory Coast, he discovers the Leica camera. The following year he presents his first exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York. He travels around Europe, in Mexico and in the United States and takes an interest in directing films. He works with director Jean Renoir in 1936 and 1939 and, during the same period, he directs three documentaries dedicated to the Spanish Civil War.

In 1940 he is taken prisoner and in February 1943 his third attempt to evade is successful. In 1944 he shoots a series of portraits for the Braun editions and in 1945 he directs Le Retour, a documentary dedicated to the repatriation of prisoners of wars and deportees. The MoMA, New York, presents an exhibition of his work in 1947 and, the same year, he founds Magnum Photos together with Robert Capa, David Seymour, George Rodger and William Vandivert. During the following three years he travels in Asia.

Back in Europe, he publishes his first book, Image à la Sauvette, in 1952. In 1954, he is the first photographer to be admitted in the Soviet Union since the beginning of the Cold War. He then travels a lot and decides in 1974 to reduce his activity as a photographer to focus on drawing.

In 2000, he decides, together with his wife Martine Franck and their daughter Mélanie, to create the Fondation HCB, dedicated in particular to keep his work.

Henri Cartier-Bresson died on 3rd August 2004 in Montjustin.



The catalogue is published in co-edition with Marsilio Editori, Venice, and Bibliothèque nationale de France.
Graphic design by Studio Sonnoli, Leonardo Sonnoli and Irene Bacchi

With texts by François Pinault, François Hébel, Agnès Sire, Aude Raimbault, Matthieu Humery, Sylvie Aubenas, Javier Cercas, Annie Leibovitz, Wim Wenders

The famous Master Collection, made of the 385 photographs selected by Henri Cartier-Bresson between 1972 and 1973 as the most important and representative ones of this career, is published on the occasion of the exhibition at Palazzo Grassi.

304 pages
1 trilingual edition (Italian, English, French)

Available for sale online and at the bookshops of Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana at reduced price.

Exhibition guide