Henri Cartier-Bresson at the Coronation of King George VI

Henri Cartier-Bresson, arguably the most significant photographer of the twentieth-century, was one of the co-founders of Magnum Photos in 1947 and champion of the “decisive moment”. He brought a new aesthetic and practice to photography, initiated modern photojournalism, and influenced countless followers.

In 1937 the United Kingdom was in a state of nervous unrest as the scandal of Edward VIII’s marriage to the divorcee, Wallis Simpson, and his subsequent abdication reverberated around the country. At the coronation of his successor, George VI, the eyes of the nation were on the monarchy and its attempts to re-establish its position as symbolic head of the country. The French Communist newspaper, Ce Soir, sent Cartier-Bresson to London to photograph the event. Typical of his dislike of pomp and circumstance, he focused on the crowds and ignored the procession.

Many of those in the crowds had waited overnight to see the procession but the man asleep amongst the discarded newspapers appears to have overslept whilst others watch the proceedings attentively. Characteristic of his irreverent eye and humour, the French photographer pokes fun at the British and their obsession with the royal family as members of the crowd crane their necks to catch a glimpse of the new King and Queen.

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