"In France, you aren't truly an actor if you haven't been photographed by the Studios Harcourt."
Roland Barthes: Mythologies (1957)
A visual record of great 20th century figures in art, culture and politics, Studio Harcourt Paris is still continuing its quest for the exceptional.
Its mastery, excellence and expertise have raised the portrait to its most noble and timeless artistic state, halfway between mystery and legend.
For an age, the "Harcourt Paris" label has stamped the portraits of celebrities and anonymous sitters alike with its assertive lettering, like a hieratic seal.
To quote Francis Dagnan, the owner of the Studio Harcourt: "Leaving a trace, a glorious imprint, is the very raison d'être of the Harcourt photo."
The Studio Harcourt came into being on 16 January 1934 thanks to a woman called Cosette Harcourt, born Germaine Hirschefeld in Paris in 1900. Her parents, Percy Hirschefeld and Sophie Liebman, were German Jewish shopkeepers who had settled in France. The family emigrated during the First World War, apparently to England.
We next find Cosette Harcourt in 1930 in Paris, where she studied photography at the Studios Manuel Frères. And this is where she met Jacques Lacroix in 1933.
Jacques and his brother Jean Lacroix were press magnates. In 1927, they created a company dealing in press magazines, then at the height of their popularity. In 1928, their review Guérir became a roaring success with the general public. In 1933, they founded an advertising agency, Pro-Publicité, together with Nina Ricci's son, Robert.
After meeting Cosette, Jacques Lacroix created the Studio Harcourt with his brother and Robert Ricci, as well as another photo studio, Pro-Photo, as a complement to Pro-Publicité.
« Cosette was in charge of the Studio Harcourt, which rapidly made a name and became highly successful. Paris society flocked to have portraits taken that immortalised them in a flattering light. In 1938, the Lacroix brothers amalgamated the two studios in a private mansion at 49 Avenue d’Iéna.
Early in World War II, Jacques Lacroix married Cosette in August 1940 in order to protect her. (They divorced in 1946 but remained together all their lives.) Sadly, she was forced to leave Paris, moving to first the South of France, then England. The studio carried on despite everything, and Cosette resumed her rightful place after the Liberation ».
This was the Studio Harcourt's golden age. It was everywhere – not only in the Lacroix Brothers' press publications, but also in the Agence France Presse and numerous cinemas, where portraits of actors and actresses were displayed. The Studio was one of the first companies to canvass customers by phone, and every photo session was meticulously orchestrated. In addition, thanks to the Agence France Presse, it attracted numerous celebrities.
Eighty people were now working at the Studio. It had eight thousand customers in 1940; between 1951 and 1958, this number rose to nine thousand. It processed over a thousand customers each month, meaning around forty each day.
However, the advent of the first Japanese reflex cameras and the Nouvelle Vague began to eat away at the Studio Harcourt's success.
The Lacroix Bros separated in 1969, leaving Jacques alone at the head of the company, which moved to the Boulevard Haussmann in 1975. Cosette Harcourt died in 1976, and Jacques Lacroix closed down the Studio in 1980.
The same year, the Hariri brothers breathed new life into the Studio, now at 9 Rue de la Paix.
Then it went through a series of different owners, see-sawing between tradition and modernity.
At the initiative of Jack Lang, then Minister of Culture, the Harcourt collection of negatives and archives was bought up by the State, and housed in the Médiathèque de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine at the Fort de Saint-Cyr. In 2007, it began to be distributed by the RMN (federation of national museums).
In 2007, the Studio Harcourt was bought by Francis Dagnan, with Catherine Renard as its manager. Its traditions have been revived: there are no star photographers, and the staff are all devoted to the glory of Harcourt.
This provides crucial stability, and ensures a long-term future for the legendary Studio Harcourt, where the tradition of excellence has become a guarantee of timeless modernity.
Studio Harcourt - 6 rue de Lota 75116 Paris - 01 42 56 67 67