Robert Doisneau’s The Kiss is one of the most famous street images of all time and also ranks as one of the most famous portraits of the 20th century. 

The image shows two young lovers, Francoise Delbart and Jacques Carteaud, in a passionate clinch, and has become synonymous with the romance and glamour of Paris as well as an enduring symbol of young love.

We are sad to report that the last-surviving part of the duo, Francoise Delbart, passed away on Christmas day, at the ripe old age of 93. Top street, portrait and documentary photographer Doisneau took the image, called Le baiser de l’hotel de ville (Kiss by the City Hall) in 1950, and although it seems to capture a very carefree time in Paris, the city was still recovering from the trauma of the Nazi occupation.

Robert Doisneau, looking sublimely Parisian. Credit: Getty Images

The Kiss: a tangled tale

In fact, the image has quite a backstory. Doisneau had been commissioned by Life magazine to do a shoot about the return of romance to Paris, so he asked the couple to ‘stage’ the kiss on the street, after initially spotting the pair in a Left Bank cafe. Life duly published the shot, but it failed to make much of a lasting impression on the public.

Fast forward to 1986, when the image was rediscovered by a poster company, and it soon appeared everywhere. By the 1990s, The Kiss had become truly iconic, appearing on a million bedroom walls and tshirts.

There then followed a distinctly unromantic dispute about the true identity of the kissing couple, with several likely contenders coming forward. These included Jean-Louis and Denise Lavergne, who took out a lawsuit in 1992, demanding a share of the large profits generated by the picture.

The Kiss was a major attraction at a large exhibition of Doisneau’s work in Bologna, Italy, in 2020 (Credit: Roberto Serra – Iguana Press/Getty Images)

The matter was only settled when Francoise Delbart, now known under her married name of Bornet, came forward with a signed print from Doisneau.

‘I would never have dared to photograph people like that,’ said Doisneau, who died in 1994. ‘Lovers kissing in the street, those couples are rarely legitimate.’

The relationship between Francoise and Jacques proved to short lived, sadly, though she did go on to achieve further fame as an actor in French movies in the 1950 and 1960s, before marrying a screenwriter.

In 2005, she sold her original print of the now world-famous image for €155,000. Jacques Carteaud, meanwhile, went on to become a wine producer, dying in 2006.

Further reading
Analogue street photography
Best camera for street photography
How to create your own style in street photography
Ethics and street photography