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The Photographer and the Cellist – Doisneau and Baquet

For Photography Month, here is a brief look at one of the most memorable collaborations between a photographer and a cellist. Below is arguably one of the most famous cello photos, with the man holding his umbrella, not over himself, but over his cello case to shield it from the rain. (Hands up, any of you who have done this.)

The cello in the rain by Robert Doisneau

“Le violoncelle sous la pluie”(The cello in the rain), Paris. Photo: Robert Doisneau (1957). CC PDM 1.0.

With its compositional beauty and humor, this photo represents the brilliant collaboration between photographer Robert Doisneau (14 April 1912 – 1 April 1994) and cellist Maurice Baquet (26 May 1911 – 8 July 2005).

Maurice Baquet

Maurice Baquet was a cellist, an actor, and an athlete.

Born in Villefranche-sur-Saône, his early cello studies were at the nearby Conservatoire de Lyon, and he continued at the Paris Conservatoire. His classmates included Henri Betti (composer and pianist-accompanist of Maurice Chevalier from 1940 to 1945), Paul BonneauLéo ChauliacHenri DutilleuxLouiguyPierre Spiers, and Raymond Trouard.

After an unsuccessful audition for l’orchestre de l’Opéra de Paris, Baquet turned to acting as a profession but continued to play the cello. Ironically, he became more famous as a cellist in his performances in this context than he would have been as an orchestral musician.

Baquet appeared on the stage, in TV shows, and in over 80 films. In this clip from The Quartet, below, you can see his talent as both a cellist and as an actor. In this video, note:

  • Playing the cello with something other than one’s fingers did not originate during the pandemic with people playing “The Swan” with a roll of toilet paper! Here Baquet plays with his shoe on his fingerboard (4:41) and through a handkerchief (3:47).
  • Several of the cello gags also appear in still photos by Robert Doisneau, notably sticking his bow on his nose (2:59).

Baquet even performed with the great Mstislav Rostropovich (27 March 1927 – 27 April 2007). The two together make quite the comedic team. Enjoy!

Baquet was also an athlete. Some sources claim that he was an Olympic skier, but I could not find any record of this. Olympian or not, Baquet was an outstanding skier and mountaineer. Here he combines his love for comedy and skiing, which is also apparent in his work with Doisneau:

Ever the innovator, he even combined his cello-playing, acting, sense of humor, and love of mountaineering. (As it happens, Hauser was not the first to play his cello on a snowy mountainside…)

Robert Doisneau

Photo of Robert Doisneau by Bracha L. Ettinger

French photographer Robert Doisneau (1992). Photo: Bracha L. Ettinger, CC BY-SA 2.5.

Doisneau is famous for his images of Paris – and his sense of humor. He created over 20 books during his career as well as photographs for Life magazine and Vogue.

Doisneau championed humanist photography – a school of photography that tells the story of the everyday human experience rather than newsworthy events, affirming

“the idea of a universal underlying human nature.” (1)

Although his photographs look completely spontaneous, here is the story of how his most famous picture, “Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville (1950) was actually staged. There is an art to making staged photos look spontaneous; together, Doisneau and Basquet were masters, creating a large body of work.

A Brilliant Collaboration

In studying their artistic collaboration, it looks as if Baquet and Doiseanu enjoyed working together. Their humor certainly shines through in many of their images, including “Le violoncelle sous la pluie” (above).

One famous image shows Baquet with his bow stuck on his nose – a still of the gag you can see in The Quartet (above). Doisneau’s photo was even on the cover of Baquet’s book, On dirait du veau . . .

As most of Doisneau’s photographs are still copyrighted, we cannot showcase them in this article. However, you can see a portfolio of images without watermarks here:

The Atelier Robert Doisneau

Click here to see the portfolio of Maurice Baquet photographs by Robert Doisneau on The Atelier Robert Doisneau website.

Getty Images has several photographs where the talents of Doisneau and Baquet come together, using the art of photography to show mountain sports, the cello, and Baquet’s acting skills:

Doisneau photographs of Baquet in the mountains on the Getty Images site

Click here to see Doisneau’s photographs of Baquet in the mountains on the Getty Images website.

A couple of our favorites are the one with the face on the music perfectly lined up with Baquet’s head, and Baquet standing with the cello with the medals pinned to its belly.

Doisneau photographs of Baquet on the Getty Images site.

Click here to see more of Doisneau’s photographs of Baquet on the Getty Images website.

Together, Doisneau and Baquet published the book Ballade pour violoncelle et chambre noire (“Ballad for cello and dark room”). Unfortunately, this book is out of print (and hard copies are extraordinarily expensive), but you can get a faded PDF copy from some sites based in France.

Ballade pour violoncelle et chambre noire

Enjoying Life

In all of their work together, both Doisneau and Baquet appear to be enjoying life. You can see Baquet’s joyful expression in Doisneau’s photographs. To produce such humorous images from his subject, Doisneau was likely enjoying himself, too.

In need of a smile today? I encourage you to click on the links above to see more of Doisneau’s images of Baquet.



Your Turn

What is your favorite cello photo? Please let us know in the comments.



Sources

In addition to the links above, here are a few sources if you want more information.

(Some links on this page are affiliate links. Please see the footer for more information. Thank you for your support.)
  • Maurice Baquet and Robert Doisneau, Ballade pour violoncelle et chambre noire (see above).

In addition, I highly recommend Celloscope #35 about Maurice Baquet. This is a wonderful series by cellist Alexis Descharmes!

Here are links to all three seasons of Celloscope: Season 1, Season 2, and Season 3.

Footnote

(1) Lutz, C.A. and Collins, J.L. (1993) Reading National Geographic. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p.277. Quoted on Wikipedia.

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