Archive for April 22nd, 2013

Nadar_autoportrait_tournantWhile following the events of last week , both in Boston and in Texas, it seemed as though the media was constantly mentioning how many terrible things had happened during this week in the past.  The Oklahoma City bombing and the end of the siege at  the Waco compound of the Branch Davidians, to name a couple.  It sent me to  the computer to search for something more positive to mark this week of the year.  I came up with the first exhibition of the Impressionists in  1874.  It took place at the Paris studio of a photographer called  Nadar.  The story of this  photographer looked even more interesting  than the original story  of the Impressionists and set me off on a tangent.

Nadar Self Portrait 1909The Frenchman Nadar, who lived from 1820 -1910 and whose real name is Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, was a larger than life character who acted as a caricaturist, photographer, journalist and a pioneering balloonist.  That’s him above in a revolving self portrait that he did in 1865.  Of course, the automated spinning was a bit after his time but I’m not sure he didn’t see it coming.  He was always pushing for the advancement of  heavier-than-air flight, in the form of balloons at the time, and was a friend and associate of Jules Verne, who based his book Five Weeks in a Balloon as well as a character in his book  From the Earth to the Moon on Nadar.

Nadar Le Geant Gondola after flight and wreckHe was well known for his aerial photos of Paris taken from a tethered balloon.  In fact, he was the first person to take an aerial photo in 1858 although none of these survived until today.  The aerial shot below of Paris  is from 1867.  In 1863, he built a huge gas balloon, Le Geant (the giant),  the largest to date.  It had a huge two story gondola and had room for thirteen passengers as well as a lavatory and other amenities such as a darkroom and a lithograph press on which short reports would be printed and flung from the balloon.  After a failed first attempt, a flight that lasted more than 17 hours and covered 400 miles was made but unfortunately there was a mishap on landing.  The winds were high and the gondola was dragged along the ground for several miles, injuring  all aboard, some seriously.  But it never deterred the forward looking Nadar, who sent the balloon to England to be displayed at the Crystal Palace in hopes of raising funds for an future attempts.

Nadar Aerial View of Paris 1867

The ballooning aside, his portraits of the leading names of the time are really wonderful.  Artists such as Monet, Corot and Delacroix were all subjects as were many others from all other fields– the actress Sarah Bernhardt; the composers Rossini, Chopin and Liszt; writers Baudelaire and George Sand.  Perhaps most striking of his portraits is a shot of Victor Hugo as he lay dead in his bed,shown here at the bottom of this post.

It all amounts to a pretty big life, one that we know little of today except as a footnote to other events.  I’m glad I followed that tangent…

Nadar Death Portrait of Victor Hugo

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