Françoise Bornet, young lover in Robert Doisneau’s The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville, dies aged 93

Bornet’s embrace with then boyfriend in spring of 1950 became one of the most famous images of Paris

It was one of the most famous kisses of the 20th century – a postwar clinch that became a 1980s poster phenomenon, bringing fame and court battles.

Françoise Bornet, the young lover immortalised in the French photographer Robert Doisneau’s The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville, has died aged 93.

If her name was virtually unknown, Bornet’s stance in an embrace with her then boyfriend in central Paris in the spring of 1950 became one of the most famous images of the city.

Bornet, who at the time went by her maiden name, Delbart, was a 20-year-old drama student when she and her fellow acting student boyfriend, Jacques Carteaud, were spotted in a cafe by Doisneau. He had been commissioned by the American magazine Life to produce a series of photos illustrating love in Paris.


Bornet later told French TV: “He said, ‘I’m Robert Doisneau, I find you both charming and wondered if you would accept to kiss again in front of my camera.’” They took several photos with him in different Paris locations.

Last year, Bornet, living in Normandy told La Dépêche d’Évreux: “I was with my boyfriend. We couldn’t stop kissing. We were kissing all over the place, all the time. Robert Doisneau was in the bar, he asked us to pose for him.”

Doisneau, who died in 1994, was always open about having staged the photo and he was lauded for his ability to compose and capture a scene.

The photo was published in Life magazine and swiftly forgotten. But it had a revival in the 1980s when it was transformed into posters and postcards capturing the romance of Paris, followed by a frenzy of merchandise from duvet covers to shower-curtains, calendars and mugs. Thirty years after the photo was taken, it came to represent a kind of black and white nostalgia of Paris and a monument to young love and spontaneous passion.

By then, Bornet, who worked as an actor, had married a different man after separating from Carteaud. He had also married and become a winemaker.

When the photograph featured on the cover of the French culture magazine Télérama in 1988, several French couples claimed they were the lovers photographed in the street and went to court over rights to their image, but the cases were thrown out of court.

Bornet was confirmed as the model in the picture, but was not awarded any money for image rights because she was considered to be unrecognisable, her face obscured by the kiss. She told French media at the time she was upset that other couples had come forward claiming to be her and Carteaud. “It was as if they had stolen my memories – and they were delightful memories of youth, pleasant and tender,” she said.

In 2005, she sold a copy of the original photo given to her by Doisneau, which was bought at auction and fetched the then very high sum of more than €150,000.

Carteaud, who lived in central France, died several years ago. When he was 65, after reading an article about the commercialisation of the photograph, he called Le Monde lamenting that this piece of photographic history could be made all about money.

In a career spanning decades, Doisneau captured everyday scenes across Paris and its banlieue, and across France, as well as projects further afield such as Palm Springs in the 1960s. He told the publication Entre Vues in 1990: “The world that I tried to show was a world where I would have felt good, where people were kind, where I found the tenderness that I want to receive. My photos were like proof that world could exist.”

Doisneau’s work in Paris and Palm Springs, including The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville, are part of an exhibition in Nice, Robert Doisneau: Le Merveilleux Quotidien, running until January 28th. – Guardian