Bonney, Thérèse


Thérèse Bonney (born Mabel Bonney, Syracuse, New York, July 15, 1894 – Paris, France, January 15, 1978) was an American photographer and publicist.

Bonney was best known for her images taken during World War II on the Russian-Finnish front. Her war effort resulted in her being decorated with the Croix de guerre and one of the five degrees the Légion d’honneur. She published several photo-essays and was the subject of the 1944 True Comics issue “Photofighter.”

Bonney received a bachelor-of-arts degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1916 and, in the year subsequent, a master’s degree from Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She settled in Paris and studied at the Sorbonne from 1918–19, publishing a thesis on the moral ideas in the theater of Alexandre Dumas, père, receiving a doctoral degree in 1921, and thus became the youngest person, the fourth woman, and the tenth American of either sex to receive the degree from the institution.

From ca. 1925, she thoroughly documented the French decorative arts through photography. An ardent self-publicist, Bonney acquired the images directly from the Salon exhibitions, stores, manufacturers, architects, and designers of furniture, ceramics, jewelry, and other applied art as well as architecture. However, at this time, most of the photographs were not taken by Bonney herself, but rather she gathered them from sources such as other photographers, photo agencies, architects, designers, stores, and various establishments. She sold the photographic prints to various client-subscribers primarily in the U.S. (a small-effort precursor to today’s news agency) and charged fees for reproduction rights in a more traditional manner. She typed captions and glued them to the backs of the photographic prints. Her own photographs as well as those of others, sometimes reconnoitered without permissions, were widely published — both with and without published credits.

She attended the 1930 “Stockholmsutstäliningen” (Stockholm Exhibition) and gathered photographs there and, while in the Netherlands, images of contemporary Dutch architecture.

After her decade-and-a-half activities in publicity and the photography of the decorative arts and architecture by others, Bonney took up photography herself and became a photojournalist. Based on her concerns with the ravages caused by World War II, her images focused on civilians, at first on the Russian-Finish front. For the endeavor, she was granted the Order of the White Rose of Finland medal for bravery. Also during the war, she traveled through western Europe taking photographs of children in dire conditions; some of the images were shown at The [[Museum of Modern Art[[in [[New York City[[in 1940 and published in her 1943 book Europe’s Children. Other activities included serving with the Croix-rouge (French International Red Cross).

Toward the end of her life, Bonney donated her estate of furniture to her alma mater in Berkley, California, and photographs and negatives — many duplicates of one another — to a number of other institutions in the U.S. and France. Other documents and books were donated to St. Bonaventure University by Ralph King.

In France, approximately 3,000 of her existing negatives are part of the collection of the Caisse Nationale des Monuments Historique et des Sites (CHMHS), formerly stored in Paris and today in St. Cloud. (In 2000, the CHMHS became the Centre des monuments nationaux [CMN].) The CHMHS archive has been digitally copied to save the images, due to the deteriorating negatives. Approximately 2,000 negatives and 1,500 prints are a part of the collection of the Bibliothèque historique de la ville de Paris. And 3,000 negatives exist in the Fort de Saint-Cyr, Montigny-le-Bretonneux (Yvelines).

In the U.S., approximately 4,000 vintage photographic prints were donated to the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City. But not all exist today. Her extensive collection of World War II photographs, photographic portraits of designers and architects, paintings by 20th-century artists, and her furniture (including examples by Pierre Chareau) was donated to the library of University of California, Berkeley. A collection of photographs was turned over to the New York Public Library. The CNMHS and the Cooper-Hewitt collections are accessible; the University of California’s is not.

Bonney never married, claiming to have adopted a child but legally did not.

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