Doisneau Photo Sells for $202K

The woman in Robert Doisneau's (search) classic photograph of a couple stealing a passionate kiss on a Paris street sold her original print at an auction Monday for more than $200,000 — about 10 times the expected sale price.

"The Kiss at City Hall" (search) was bought by an unidentified Swiss collector, who is expected to pay an additional $38,850 in taxes and other fees in addition to the $202,000 purchase price, according to Artcurial Briest Pulain le Fur auction house, where the sale took place.

Before the auction, the house said the photograph was expected to sell for between $19,600 and $26,000.

The photograph was put up for auction by Francoise Bornet (search) — a former actress who claims she and an old flame were the subjects of the image, which was taken in 1950 and skyrocketed to fame in 1986 when it was reprinted as a poster.

"It's like a Christmas present," a delighted Bornet said of the sale.

The black-and-white picture of a young couple kissing in front of Paris' City Hall with harried passersby fading into the background evoked a spontaneous moment of romance that affirmed Paris' reputation as the city of blissful love.

That it was not a spontaneous snapshot was confirmed by a lawsuit Bornet filed in the early 1990s. She sued Doisneau for $18,500 and a percentage of sales of the photo. The court in June 1993 rejected her claims, though the case forced Doisneau to confess to having used professionals instead of a couple caught off guard. The photographer died a year later in 1994.

Still, the image has never lost its allure.

Bornet says that in 1950 she and her boyfriend Jacques Carteaud were embracing in a cafe near the school where the two young students were studying theater. Doisneau, who was working on a photo series about lovers in Paris for Life magazine, approached them, Bornet says.

They met a few days later to recreate the kiss. The photo appeared in Life magazine that year.

The Rapho photo agency, Doisneau's employer when he took the picture, owns the rights to the photo. Bornet never received royalties from the reproduction and could only sell her photograph, which bears the late Doisneau's stamp on the back, for private use.

Kathleen Grosset, the director of Rapho, said more than 500,000 posters and 400,000 postcards have been reprinted from the original.

"Over the years, it must have made something like €500,000 ($650,000) for both the agency and the photographer," Grosset said.

Auctioneer Herve Poulain said he believed the $200,000 price was among the highest ever for a 20th century photograph.

Bornet, who found the photo while sifting through memorabilia left behind by her mother after she died, expressed no regret about parting with the photograph.

"In any case, this kiss is engraved in my memory," Bornet said. "It's a wonderful memory, is all. I don't need the image to remember it."