The French government has egg on its face over an archive of rare and extremely valuable Henri Cartier-Bresson prints that it lost not once, but twice—some of which are now resurfacing on the private art market.
According to an article in The Independent, it seems Cartier-Bresson gave 551 vintage prints to the French government, most of which came from a 1955 exhibition at the Louvre Museum in Paris. Some were made by the photographer himself—unusual because, for most of his career, he had other people make his prints for him. (He was, or claimed he was, allergic to darkroom chemicals*.)
The archive was later discovered to be severely damaged by water leaks in the basement of the museum facility where they were being stored. Reluctantly, after inspecting the damage in 1991, Cartier-Bresson agreed that the prints should be destroyed.
Ten years later, Cartier-Bresson recognized a print from the archive being offered for private sale. He made a formal complaint, and the sale was stopped.
Since the photographer's death in 2004, more of the supposedly "destroyed" prints have been showing up on the art market. Where did they come from? Nobody seems to know. The Cartier-Bresson foundation has formally demanded that the French government admit that it did not destroy the prints; the French government says the prints now turning up must have come from some other souce. (I'll trust Martine Franck, Cartier-Bresson's widow, who recognizes the prints as having come from the archive.)
There's plenty of motive for skullduggery: a single one of these prints can be worth more than a quarter of a million dollars.
Pass les oeufs, please. Plenty of shamefulness to go around.
Read the article here.
*I sympathize—I'm allergic to washing dishes.
Featured Comment by Andre Moreau: "For those who read French, here's the original article from the Le Monde newspaper."