Nadar, Convention and Caprice

The often-praised portraits by Félix Tournachon, better known as Nadar (1820 – 1910), are emblematic of 19th century photography. During the 1850s, he took the portraits of some of the greatest Parisian artists, performers and bohemians and this period saw him perfect a recipe for success that would endure during the Second Empire.

It was during the Third Republic when Paul Nadar (1856 – 1939) started to work alongside his father, before finally succeeding him, that a standardisation of the studio’s portraits began that could easily be considered as a purely commercial strategy. This exhibition aims to modify such a point of view by considering that the success of these photos of actors and actresses, stars of the theatre at this time, provide us with a complementary vision of ‘fin de siècle’ society. The photographer’s studio can thus be regarded as a crossroads where convention meets caprice: portraits of illustrious figures and solemn portrayals of pillars of society rub shoulders with the grimaces and gesticulation, the parading and miming of show business.

Delving into the archives of the Médiathèque de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, which possesses the negatives from the Nadars’ (father and son) studio, the exhibition links together and reinterprets two aspects of the portrait, which on the surface may seem contrary, and shows that between portraits of the great and famous and ‘tableaux vivants’, it is in fact society’s collective imagery which is placed before the lens.

The exhibition proposes to evoke the relationship between Nadar and his son Paul by studying the images themselves thanks to some 200 photos on show, printed from the original negatives without retouching or reframing… bringing together convention and caprice in a successful marriage of the exhibition and archives.


Technical specifications
146 modern inkjet prints, printed on matte fine art paper and pasted on Dibond. (Sizes: 1 photo 51 x 37 cm, 1 photo 30 x 21 cm, 2 photos 18 x 24 cm, 2 photos 27 x 21 cm, 1 photo 11.5 x 22 cm, 2 photos 13 x 18 cm, 1 photo 37 x 44 cm, 87 photos 40 x 30 cm, 26 photos 30 x 40 cm, 23 photos 33 x 22 cm).

60 albumen prints, 1 biography i.e. 61 frames (57 40 x 47 cm frames, 4 44 x 54 cm frames), finished with cream-coloured mats, captions and light-coloured wooden mouldings.

4 period documents (42 x 25 cm, to be presented in a display case).

2 light boxes, digital reproductions of original negatives (35 x 74 cm, 41 x 42 cm, to be hung).
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