Sunday, 27 September, 2020

The boy who photographed La Belle Époque of France



Jacques Henri Lartigue, born in 1894 in Courbevoie, was given a camera as a boy by his father at the dawn of the 20th Century.

Image copyright
Jacques Henri Lartigue / 2020 Ministère de la Cul

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Lartigue in his bath with his hydro-glider, 1904

He began taking photographs of his life, including snapshots of his parents; his bedroom; his nanny Dudu throwing a ball up into the air; his brother jumping off a boat.

A photo of Lartigue's bedroom with a toy plane on the floorImage copyright
Jacques Henri Lartigue / 2020 Ministère de la Cul

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Lartigue’s bedroom, 1906

A new book by Louise Baring explores Lartigue’s privileged childhood and early career against the backdrop of France’s La Belle Époque, an era of political, commercial and creative optimism.

A family album page showing Lartigue sleeping in bed with a catImage copyright
Jacques Henri Lartigue / 2020 Ministère de la Cul

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Lartigue in bed with his cat Zizi (shutter released by Dudu, the family nursemaid), 1904

Lartigue went on to photograph his brother Zissou’s inventions, including a glider lifting off in a gust of wind, and his cousins racing around in home-made go-karts.

A woman falls off a go-kart whilst laughingImage copyright
Jacques Henri Lartigue

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Simone Roussel, Rouzat, 1913

At a young age, Lartigue mastered the medium of photography using his hand-held Kodak camera – first introduced in 1888 – to harness the immediacy of the snapshot.

A family album page showing beach holiday photographsImage copyright
Jacques Henri Lartigue

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Villerville, Normandy, 1906

He photographed the social parade in the Bois do Boulogne, a large park on the outskirts of Paris, where the fashions of the upper echelons of society were displayed.

A portrait of a woman in a park wearing an elaborate hat, face veil and thick fur coatImage copyright
Jacques Henri Lartigue

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Régina Badet, Bois de Boulogne, 1911

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Anna la Pradvina, Bois de Boulogne, 1911Image copyright
Jacques Henri Lartigue

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Anna la Pradvina, Bois de Boulogne, 1911

Other subjects included a woman in furs attracting a covetous glance from a male passer-by; the gleaming lines of a racing car; winter sports in Switzerland; and summers on the beaches of Étretat and Trouville, where, he wrote: ‘Nothing hinders my eyes from roaming, drifting endlessly….’

A racing car zooms past spectatorsImage copyright
Jacques Henri Lartigue

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‘The French Grand Prix, Circuit de Dieppe, Normandy, 1912’, as captioned by Lartigue

Lartigue often captured his subjects mid-gesture as in real life, creating a new visual language for the 20th Century.

A young man and woman fly sledge down a snow-covered slopeImage copyright
Jacques Henri Lartigue

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Zissou and Simone Roussel, St Moritz, 1913

The book by Louise Baring includes photographs, drawings and diary excerpts, revealing Lartigue’s prodigious talent, but also offering an adolescent perspective of Paris before the outbreak of World War One.

Two of Lartigue's diary showing sketches of scenes and writingImage copyright
Donation Jacques Henri Lartigue

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Pages from Lartigue’s diary from 1913 (left) and 1911 (right)

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A sketch of a fashionable ladyImage copyright
Donation Jacques Henri Lartigue

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A fashion drawing by Lartigue, 1908

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Late in his life, Lartigue was hailed as one of the founders of modern photography.

In 1963, the Museum of Modern Art in New York gave an exhibition of Lartigue’s work.

Fellow-photographer Richard Avedon wrote to him after seeing the exhibition: “It was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

“You brought me into your world, and isn’t that, after all, the purpose of art?”

A man in a suit sits in a rubber ring in open waterImage copyright
Jacques Henri Lartigue

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Zissou in the pool at Rouzat, 1911

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Lartigue: The Boy and the Belle Époque is published by Thames & Hudson.

Photographs courtesy Jacques Henri Lartigue / 2020 Ministère de la Culture – France/AAJ HL



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