Les Nadar… A French Family Affair

Nadar—the world’s first celebrity photographer—was Felix Tournachon’s nom de plume which he started using as a caricaturist, journalist and novelist before shifting to photography and making portraits of such celebrated Parisians as Charles Baudelaire, Gustave Doré and Sarah Bernhardt. The exhibition “Les Nadar, une legende photographique” at the National Library of France (BNF) displays the work of Felix Tournachon (1820-1910) and photographs by his less-known brother Adrien (1825-1903) and his son Paul (1856-1939).

Before making his iconic photographs, Nadar worked as a caricaturist and writer for various newspapers. In 1849, he founded the “Revue comique” and “the Petit journal pour rire.” In 1854 he created a lithograph depicting famous Parisians he called “Pantheon-Nadar.” With his second “Pantheon” Nadar started using photography to facilitate making his caricatures.

Felix encouraged his brother Adrian—a struggling painter— to pursue photography paying Gustave le Gray to give him photo lessons and setting him up with a photo studio. Things were complicated between the two brothers and Felix winds up suing his brother to stop him from using the Nadar name. Felix eventually wins and the rest is history.

The BNF exhibition aims to shine some light on that history. Approximately 300 photos dating from the 1850s to 1930s testify to the specificities of each one of the three photographers, their collaborations as well as their rivalries. Through vintage photographic prints, drawings, paintings and objects, the exhibition examines the legacy one of the important families of early photography.

“Les Nadar, une legende photographique” to February 3, 2019, BNF, François Mitterrand