THE SOUL OF OLD PARIS

He liked to show people in love and workers having a pause. But he noticed everything, from children at play to dramas behind the curtains. His own father was a portrait photographer. Yet Willy Ronis dreamed of being a violinist.

Then his dad fell ill. At 22, to save the family, Willy picked up his camera.

He never put it down. Ronis became the friend and colleague of Robert Capa, André Kertèsz, Robert Doisneau and Cartier-Bresson. When he passed away in 2009, Ronis was almost 100 – with a lifetime of striking images.

Many of them are icons, shots that defined France around the globe. But for this son of immigrants, they embodied those things he valued.

Ronis left his magnificent oeuvre to the nation. But before bequeathing it, the lensman chose a ‘best of’ which he carefully annotated. It has just gone on show in an 18th century building.

It’s a unique experience, an exhibit whose creator whispers in your ear. If he has little to say about technique, you certainly learn about patience and surprise.

The show begins in the depressed 1930s, when the Left-wing Popular Front came to power in France. After World War II, Ronis covers the Liberation, prisoners coming back from the camps and that extreme need which followed victory.

But his focus remains ordinary life, from which he drew a lifelong optimism.

This huge exhibition – 200 photos – radiates joy and fraternity. If the struggles of this vanished Paris are evident, so are the personalities and persistence of its people. Not only do they know who they are and where they’re headed… their style and wicked sense of humour both prove infectious.

Willy Ronis by Willy Ronis runs through 29 September at the Pavillion Carré de Baudouin, 121 rue de Ménilmontant Paris 20e; admission is FREE

A FLOWER A DAY …

When it comes to the arts, fashion’s Agnes B is a jewel. Not only does she collect art non-stop. She also supports street artists, funds films and concerts and helps bankroll environmental projects. Her web site encourages artists to ask for aid.

Agnès B also runs a gallery of her own that, after years, is in between premises.

During the interim, there is a gallery in her main boutique. Currently it features flowers by François Olislaeger, who is both a bédéiste and illustrator.

Olislaeger, 40, is Belgian. But he splits his time between Paris and Mexico. He started painting a flower each day for his daughter Lila, when she left home. The result is a delicate, uplifting bouquet. Plus, as at all of Agnès B shows, entrance is free.

une fleur par jour (a flower a day) is upstairs in the Agnès B at 6, rue du Jour, through 16 June

LOOSE LADIES & THEIR LIPSTICK

Prostitutes are among the most important figures in art. Ladies of the night served as inspiration to greats from Baudelaire to Picasso. Between 1830 and the First World War, they were also a symbol of modern life. But two other novelties played a role in this phenomenon. One was artificial lighting and the other was makeup.

In late-night dancehalls and brothels, each of them enhanced the other. You see it in the art of Manet, Dégas, Toulouse Lautrec, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Picasso, Derain… almost anyone trying to be “contemporary”. Nice bourgeouis women wore no visible makeup.

Yet poets like Baudelaire wrote elegies to makeup while Zola zeroed in on how it was applied.

Such sulphurous women’s face were white; they had black-rimmed eyes and blood-red lips.

No one recorded all this better than František Kupka – the Bohemian* painter whose show is the summer’s hottest ticket. Kupka (above) was a pioneer of abstraction. But, before that, he painted gigolettes. 

These were the women who cruised Parisian cabarets. In Kupka’s turn-of-the-century Montmartre, they would arrive at sunset every evening.

Zola, in his novel Nana, might have been describing them:

“Dipping her brush in a pot of kohl, with the point of her nose next to the mirror, she passed it between the lashes of her eyes… Then, with a little finger, she laid two thick lines of crimson over her lips. The count grew excited, physically ravished by the perverse charm of painted youth, with its too-red mouth set in a too-white face, its eyes enlarged and encircled by black eyes that burned as if they had been murdered by love”.

*Kupka was quite literally born in Bohemia, in part of what is now the Czech Republic. In 1894, after art studies and travel, he moved to Paris.

Kupka, Pioneer of Abstraction runs through 30 July at the Grand Palais

• The catalogue of the Musée d’Orsay’s 2015 show Splendour and Misery offers a full  portrait of how prostitution as seen by artists between 1850 and 1910