First major retrospective of Jacques Léonard

The exhibition  Jacques Léonard. L’esprit nomade (The nomadic spirit) is the first retrospective exhibition of Jacques Léonard and will be held from May 27 to October 1, 2023 at the Musée Réattu in Arles (France), organized by the Photographic Foundation in collaboration with the museum of fine arts in this city.

This is a very special event, not only because it is held in the photographer’s native country, but also because it will be part of the official program of Les Rencontres de la Photographie d’Arles, the most prestigious photography festival in the world that will take place in July to September.

In addition, coinciding with said festival, Arles will host a second exhibition of the author’s work, also organized by our Foundation together with the Anne Clergue Galerie (more information at the end of this news item).

The nomadic spirit of Jacques Léonard

The retrospective Jacques Léonard. L’esprit nomade is curated by Daniel Rouvier, director of the Musée Réattu in Arles, and by Maria Planas, responsible for the management of the Jacques Léonard Family Archive by the Photographic Foundation.

Paral·lel Avenue, circa 1960. © Jacques Léonard Family Archive

Maria Planas explains how “Jacques Léonard photographed almost his entire life out of professional but also personal demands, and on many occasions for the simple pleasure of capturing reality as he saw it. His photography, committed, deeply respectful, with a balanced composition and of great documentary, historical and artistic value, it developed in parallel to his life. A life characterized by uprooting, perhaps genetic, but also as a personal choice. The nomadic spirit”.

The exhibition takes a tour of the author’s photographic and vital trajectory through approximately 160 images -vintage copies, current copies and portraits-, most of them unpublished. It also exhibits the three cameras with which the author worked, and the documentary “Jacques Léonard. El payo Chac” (2011), directed by Yago Léonard, grandson of Jacques Léonard, and produced by Curt Ficcions Curt Produccions.

With a nomadic career and a humanistic outlook, Jacques Léonard began working at the Gaumont film studios in Paris and pursued various professions, always interested in images, until he settled in Barcelona in 1952, where he became a professional photographer, working for various media. communication and creating his own studio dedicated to advertising photography.

Léonard has left an important gallery of images that document life in Barcelona between the 1950s and 1970s: streets, markets, festivals, amusement parks, the port, the jetty and promenade, sports activities (such as the Davis Cup and the 24 hours from Montjuïc), trade fair, operations at the Sant Pau hospital, children on the street… He also works in various towns on the Catalan coast, such as Sitges, Salou, Tossa and Vilanova i la Geltrú, portraying the incipient tourism . These are photographs that document social reality in a positive and respectful way.

Below, we detail some of the works that are part of the retrospective:

Image from the report “Evadés”. Malaga bullring. December 1943 © Family Archive Jacques Léonard

  • “Evades”, 1943
    The oldest known photographs of Jacques Léonard date from 1943. It is a small and valuable report that witnesses the passage through Spain of young Frenchmen fleeing fascism and who came from different parts of the Spanish geography to embark in Malaga. towards Africa and freedom on December 23, 1943. The historian Josep Calvet, a specialist in the passage of people through the Pyrenees during the Franco regime and the period between the wars, affirms that it is probably the only graphic material known to date of this historical episode. It is a report with innovative perspectives and points of view, which show the influence of the avant-garde aesthetic trends that appeared in Europe during the 1930s.


  • “División Azul”, 1954
    One of his best photojournalistic works: the arrival in Barcelona of the components of the Blue Division on the Semiramis ship on April 2, 1954. The failed attempt of 45,000 men recruited by Franco to help the Nazi army in the invasion of Russia. The images show the author’s ability to convey the irrepressible emotion caused by the reunion of the division members who returned with their families. Like “Évadés”, this report shows the photographer’s interest in the consequences of the war and the movements of people it causes.


  • Journey with Robert Lamouret and Vicky Ross, 1949-1951
    For three years, Léonard accompanied the ventriloquist Robert Lamouret and his wife and artist Vicky Ross on tour in Australia, Greece, Italy and England. The photographs, of a family nature, are of great biographical value and artistic quality.

Recognized for documenting gypsy Barcelona

Of course, the Musée Reattu exhibition also includes a large part of his photographic collection dedicated to gypsy themes, for which Léonard is especially recognized, given that his approach was far removed from the folklorism of other contemporary authors.

Montjuïc. Barcelona, ​​1955. © Jacques Léonard Family Archive

And it is that, once in Barcelona, ​​Jacques Léonard fell in love and married Rosario Amaya, a model for artists and of gypsy ethnicity, who lived in the shacks on the Montjuïc mountain. This fact would guarantee Léonard access to the gypsy community of great privacy and total naturalness, what makes him incomparable.

Léonard’s preserved archive has more than 20,000 images. About 4,000 negatives and almost three quarters of the original copies deal with the gypsy culture. Léonard portrayed all aspects of the daily life of the gypsies with the aim of disseminating and preserving the most significant features and traditions of a culture in the process of transformation. His photographs are a valuable family and domestic witness, documentary and artistic, and constitute one of the most important collections of gypsy culture.

He portrays rituals linked to weddings and death, trades, festivals, music, camps, images of pilgrimages –Rocío in Huelva, Montserrat in Barcelona, ​​Lourdes and especially the Santas Marías del Mar, where he attended uninterruptedly for 10 years – testify to the cultural specificities that the author wants to preserve.

In addition to photographs of a documentary nature, Léonard makes an important collection of portraits, in his studio and abroad, with an almost pictorial aesthetic, both due to the treatment of light and composition. This photographic work culminates with the writing of “Les quatre fers en l’air”, an unpublished treatise to which Jacques Léonard dedicated the last years of his life and which, although it includes autobiographical notes, focuses on the main features that define the gypsy culture.


Les Rencontres d’Arles and “Les Gitans”

The caravan, Surroundings of El Prat de Llobregat, Barcelona, ​​ca. 1960 © Family Archive Jacques Léonard

The exhibition “Jacques Léonard. The nomadic spirit” is included in the program of the 54th edition of Les Rencontres de la Photographie d’Arles, the most prestigious photography festival in the world, which will take place from July 3 to September 24.

Coinciding with the opening of the festival, the Photographic Foundation is organizing another Jacques Léonard exhibition in Arles, entitled Les gitans (The Gypsies), with current and vintage prints for sale. Complementary to the retrospective, this exhibition can be visited from July 4 to August 26 at the Anne Clergue Galerie. In 2020, the same gallery already hosted the “Alegría” exhibition, organized by the Photographic Foundation, making it easier for many European collectors to discover Léonard’s work for the first time.


Jacques Léonard Family Archive: more than a decade with Photographic

Since he spent most of his career as a photographer in Spain, Léonard is still unknown in France. By making the great retrospective at Musée Reattu at the same time than the exhibition Les gitans at Anne Clergue Galerie, the Photographic Foundation seeks to make him definitively known among the French public and to internationalize his valuable photographic legacy of great artistic, documentary and historical interest.

As representative of the Jacques Léonard archive for more than ten years, together with his heirs, his sons Àlex and Santi Léonard, the Photographic Foundation curates and promotes exhibitions, produces and sells certified copies, works for the research, management and dissemination of his legacy and also for its popular and institutional recognition, its internationalization and compliance with copyright.