* biographical details on boys clothing: Gaspard-Felix Tournachon Nadar

Biographical Details on Boys' Clothing Styles: Gaspard-Felix Tournachon Nadar (France, 1820-1910)

Figure 1.--This is a self portrait of the famed French photographer, Nader with his wife and son Paul. We are not sure when it was taken, but would guess the 1860s.

Gaspard-Felix Nadar is one of the photographic giants of the 19th century. He is of some interest to HBC because of the many portarits he took, including family prtraits. His life, however, cuts a wondeful swaith through the 19th century and the extent and diversity of his activities and talents is breath taking. Photography was probably his most financially rewarding enterprise, but it was in fact only one part of his many varied life works. His activuties included caricaturism, journalism, writing (novels), aviation (ballooning), artist, and socialism. Certainly he was one of the great celebreties of the century. His enthusiasm and productivity are difficult to fully comprehend.


Gaspard was born in Paris in 1820. His father earned a compfortable life as a printer. We have little information about his childhood or how he was dressed as a boy.


He had an ordinary middle-class education, attending a lycee in Versailles.


Nader's father died in 1838. The family returned to their native Lyon. He studied briefly to be a doctor and then turned to journalism,. Nadar began writing drama criticism for a Lyonnais newspaper. Journalism and other writing was to be a career he pursued off and on for the rest of his life.


Nadar after only a few years in Lyon returned to Paris. He enthusiastically embraced the heady artisic world of Second Republic bohemia. He tried just about every thing. In his memoirs written 60 years later, Nadar enumerated his many, varied occupations. He did every thing from poaching to smugglling. He worked as a clerk, peat seller, and secretary. It was journalism to whch he was constantly drawn and which prinmarily supported him. Beginning at this period he began a phenomenal series of essays, reviews, short stories, articles, and books that would have been an impressive achievement for most men. During the He wrote for many revues and newspapers during the 1840s. Nadar was an idealist. He envraced socialism and the short-lived Second Republic. When revolution swept Europe in 1848, he enlistment in the Polish Legion. The Legion was priomarily composed of disorganized Polish exiles and French sympathizers who attempted to liberate Poland. They were arrested in Germany and sent back to France.


Nader in the late 1840s took up caricature. He produced lively caricatures for various satirical journals which were very popular in Paris. He signed his work "Nadar." He spent a brief time in debtor's prison. He like most Eurooean intelectuals went to London to for Prince Albert's Great Exhibition in 1851. Perhaps inspired by thuis experience, he launched a project he called the Pantheon Nadar. This was a planned series of lithographic caricatures ilustrating the 1,000 most prominent personalities of the day--although that had to be reduced to 300. It was a very modest success finacially, but brought him emense prestige in Parisian artistic circles. It is probably this project that led Nader to photography. Photographic images of a subject are a great aid to drawing a caricature.


Nader by 1854 set up his younger brother Adrian Tournachon as a photographer. The association with his brother did not go well. Nadar himself set up his on studio on the roof of the house that he shared with his mother. He became the most popular photographer in Paris. By 1860 he had opened an impressive new studio on the Boulevard des Capucines. In bold letters across the front of the building was the signature 'Nadar'. Thevstudio with his gaudy advertising slogans became a Paris landmark. Throughout his life he had a sence self-promotion. The notables of Frenchbsociety flocked to his studio. Nadar dabbled with photography for the rest of his life, but his obsession and majpr contribution was made over a very brief 10-year period. Nader made the first photographs with artificial light, in 1861 descending into the Parisian sewers and catacombs with magnesium flares. It is his portaits, however, that were his primary contribution to photography. He produced masterful portaits of the great figures of the day from the mid-1850s through the mid-1860s. Almost like paintings, his porraits convey the sitter's personality. Nadar typically chose three-quarter views. He might hide a sitter's hands so that the full force of the portrait was conveyed by the facial expression and the pose.


Nadar by the mid-1860s found a new enthusiasm--aviation. His primary interest was heavier-than-air flight. He actually worked with Jules Verne. He dabbled in balloning and made the first aerial photographs. When the Germans besiged Paris in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War, communications were cut off from the west of the country. Nader suggesting ballons and demonstrated the feasability, dropping anti-Prussian leaflets on the beseiging Germans in th process. The French than used the ballons to bring out the mail from the beleaguered city as well as conveying military dipatchs. The French Government turned to ballons which for the remainder of the War enfuriated the Germans who attempted all sort of countermeasures.

Later Years

Nader was ruined financially by the War. He gave up his photographic studio and turned over the running the business to his son Paul, who became a successful commercial portraitist in his own right. He always considered himself a rebel and open to new ideas, bith artistic and technical. Thus it was at his studio that the impresionists in 1874 held their first exhibition, bypassing the Salon.

Mlle de Lesseps

Several portraits of the Vicomte deLesseps and his family was taken at the Nadar studio. A relative tells us, "There is another twist to the story. The photo of the children with the black dickeys (scarfs) is the one on the official French Ministry of Culture Website. They are downloading gradually all of the Atelier Nadar collection. Anne-Marie Bernard collaborated with Paul Nadar in a publiction called The World of Proust, which was acclaimed at the time as a masterpiece of Biography and photography. After Paul Nadar's death, she donated the entire collection of the Atelier Nadar to the French Ministry of Culture. There were about 400,000 glass plates etc. So far there are only 25,000 on the website. I have trawled 5,000 so far, and found the 'Black Dickey' photgraph there. I have also found a few later photos of some of the children. I am still trawling hoping to find the other 'unadulterated'? photo." [Autard]


Autard, John. E-mail May 5, 2009. John is the great grandson of Helene De Lesseps. He lives in Cape Town, South Africa and has a website devoted to his family. A HBC contributor has been corresponding with him.


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Created: October 18, 2001
Last updated: 1:50 PM 8/29/2020