Nadar and the Art of Photography

Selfportrait of Félix Nadar (1820-1910)

On April 5, 1820, Gaspard-Félix Tournachon better known under his pseudonym Nadar, war born. He is considered to be one of the first grand masters of photography, besides being a caricaturist, a journalist, a novelist, and also a reknown balloonist.

Felix Nadar started studying medicine, but abandoned this subject to become a journalist and worked at first in Paris and Lyon. Back then, he was already known as an amazing caricaturist, wherefore he was “awarded” with the nickname Nadar. Actually, the pseudonym affectionately given to him by his friends was formed after his French nickname “tourne adard” (bitter sting). By 1865, the talented artist basically quit his career as caricaturist due to his increasing fame as photographer.

One of his most famous works depicts the ‘Panthéon Nadar‘. Nadar created the lithographic panorama showing around 300 French celebrities of his time in the 1850’s. After this success, Nadar and his brother Adrien Tournachon decided to become professional photographers and began shooting several portraits of celebrities and artists in the late 1850’s. To his first portrayed people belonged the writers Théophile Gautier or Gérard de Narval. Later photographed people were Edouard Manet, Gustav Courbet or Sarah Bernardt. Nadar’s portraits emphasized his denial of accessories or any other artifices.

Often, his images were praised due to the notable intimacy, Nadar was able to establish towards the portrayed person. He was famous for the brilliant light settings in his portraits, creating beautiful shadows around the models. Nadar was able to achieve this through the collodion glass process, developed by Frederic Scott Archer. Since the technology was just invented, Nadar was one of the first to have adapted it, creating unique images.

In the 1860’s, Nadar created a place where artists and intellectuals could meet and discuss various topics. In 1874, Nadar organized his first exhibition of impressionist works by his friends Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, and Paul Cézanne.

Next to his portraits, Nadar was known for his early aerial photography, which he was able to perform while enjoying another balloon ride. He made the very first aerial photographs in history from a balloon at the battle of Solferino in 1859. Around 1863, Nadar built a huge (6000 m³) balloon named Le Géant (“The Giant”), thereby inspiring Jules Verne‘s “Five Weeks in a Balloon“. Although the “Géant” project was initially unsuccessful Nadar was still convinced that the future belonged to heavier-than-air machines. Nadar also depicted the inspirational character for Michael Arden in Verne’s ‘From the Earth to the Moon‘ and became president of the ‘Society for the Encouragement of Aerial Locomotion by Means of Heavier than Air Machines‘ of which Jules Verne was occupied as vice president.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture by Jonathan Klein, explaining how photographs have changed the world.

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