The photo was taken in 1933 by Gisele Freund, just after the publication of one of Malraux’s most famous novels, La Condition humaine (Man’s Fate), which won the Goncourt Prize and established his international reputation. Of the author, his hair blown with wind, and a cigarette butt stuck to his lips, Gisele noted, “There was drama in his simplest words.” André Malraux would enlist her in 1935 to document the First International Congress of Writers for the Defense of Culture, for which she took memorable portraits of the giants and titans of the 20th century literature.
Removing cigarettes from old pictures is almost a pasttime in France. In the late 1990s, when French postal authorities tried to honor André Malraux, they used this famous snapshot, but guillotined the cigarette as part of a national anti-smoking campaign. Gisele, the celebrated German-born French photographer, would be pleased–her seminal work, Photographie et société (1974), was about the uses and abuses of the photographic medium.