Le Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville, the legendary image of Paris romance by Robert Doisneau, which set a record for a French post-War photograph when it made €155,000 (£105,400), at ArtCurial on April 25.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

This iconic and romantic image of post-War Paris, full of youth and hope, sold more than 400,000 copies when turned into a poster in 1986.

But as its cult status grew, so the true story of what emerged as a Life magazine commission gradually unfolded.

Le Baiser de l'Hôtel de Ville, the legendary image of Paris romance by Robert Doisneau (1912-94) was taken in 1950. It was part of a series on the theme Paris Lovers commissioned by the magazine and, although now regarded as a timeless classic, its universal popularity dates only from 1986, when the poster version was produced.

As its popularity increased, several unscrupulous couples attempted to cash in on that success by claiming to be the pair shown in the photograph. Jean and Denise Lavergne even appeared on French TV in 1992, insisting the photograph had been taken without their knowledge.

In reality, the woman in the photo was Françoise Bornet, and she could prove it: Doisneau gave her a print of the picture a few days after it was taken.

The Lavergnes' bogus assertion that they were the couple stung Bornet into contacting Doisneau and, when they met for the first time in 42 years, she showed him the photograph he'd given her. Doisneau, perhaps understandably, had made no move to correct the widespread belief that the photo was a chance snapshot, and was initially reluctant to believe Bornet. What convinced him was his personal stamp on the back of the print, and the pencil-written negative reference No 21.039.

Soon after Doisneau admitted publicly that the photograph had been posed, as he "would never have dared photograph people just like that - lovers who kiss in the street are seldom official couples!"

Doisneau told how he had approached Bornet and her then boyfriend, Jacques Carteaud, after spotting them near the Invalides, outside a café where he was having a drink. The pair were students at the Cours Simon drama school round the corner. He asked them to pose for him, they agreed, and the shoot took place outside City Hall (over a mile away) a couple of days later.

The romance didn't last and it was only after seeing Bornet's story in the press that Carteaud, a wine producer in the Vaucluse, came forward, revealing that he still had the suit he was wearing on the photo.

Carteaud has since died but Bornet, at 75, remains full of zest.

At ArtCurial (22.72/13.16% buyer's premium) on April 25 she was in the saleroom to see her vintage silver print, 7 x 93/4in (18 x 24.5cm), soar to €155,000 (£105,400), paid by an anonymous Swiss private buyer and setting an auction record for a French post-War photograph.

ArtCurial had expected the photograph to bring €15,000-20,000, based on the previous high for a Doisneau photograph - £6000 (€9000) at Sotheby's London in May 2003.

Such was the iconic status of the image that the Hôtel Dassault saleroom was crammed, with a dozen television crews in attendance, as bidding rose swiftly from €10,000 to €50,000, with five phone bidders and two bidders in the room still in contention; four remained at €100,000.

Auctioneer Rémy Le Fur brought down his gavel at €155,000 amidst sustained applause.

The Swiss buyer said he and his wife considered the photograph "a mirror of our youth", quipping: "This was a kiss I didn't steal!"

Mme Bornet plans to invest her unexpected windfall in launching a production company to help young film makers.

Simon Hewitt