Feature Stories

Gain behind-the-scenes access and learn about specific works and artists.

"Behind Every Great Man..."

Article by Carol McCusker, Harn Curator of Photography


image: André Kertész, Elizabeth &  I,  1933, gelatin silver print
© Estate of André Kertész 2019, courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto

If you watch PBS-Public Television, you may have noticed American Masters, and other art programs, are supported by “The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation.” Ever wonder who they are?

André Kertész was a Hungarian-born photographer, who later lived in Paris, and ultimately, New York, and shaped the art of street photography in the 20th century. He began his career in earnest in the 1920s, when he embraced the new 35mm Leica, a small camera that used roll film and had a rapid shutter speed. It revolutionized photography. (Changing camera technologies over the past 180 years have determined how and what we see. New cameras produce new vision.) It is said three people “made” the 35mm Leica: Oskar Barnack, its inventor; Erich Salomon, father of candid 1920s photojournalism; and Kertész, who made poetry out of everyday life. With the Leica, and his move to Paris, Kertész was liberated.

In Paris, between the two world wars, Kertész flourished, becoming a celebrated artist, so much so that the great French photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, declared, “Whatever we have done, Kertész did first!” However, once he moved to New York in 1936, Kertész could hardly make a living. Not until the 1960s, when curators began publishing and exhibiting his work, and the photography market began to grow, did Kertész get the attention he deserved. In time, this brought financial reward.

So, how did the “Kertész  Foundation” come into being? Kertész’s wife, Elizabeth, upon arriving in New York with her husband in 1936, established a successful perfume and cosmetic business. (In Paris, she had worked for Helena Rubinstein.) It was her income and business savvy that sustained them. Honoring Elizabeth’s entrepreneurship and commitment to him, André initially wanted the Foundation to bear her name only, yet, his name was the most widely known. Hence, their combined legacies continue to fund PBS cultural programming, and other philanthropic organizations. With 2020 being the “Year of the Woman,” it is fitting that Elizabeth receive the recognition she deserves for her role in the life and art of
André Kertész.