Nadar was the pseudonym of Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (1820–1910), a French photographer, caricaturist, journalist, printmaker, draughtsman, novelist, and balloonist. He was born into a family of printers and became familiar with the world of letters very early in life. He abandoned his study of medicine for journalism, working first in Lyon and then in Paris. In the 1840s Nadar moved in socialist, bohemian circles and developed strong republican convictions. Around this time he adopted the pseudonym Nadar from ‘Tourne à dard’ [one who stings], a nickname he gained because of his talent for caricature.
Nadar became well known for his Panthéon Nadar, a lithographic panorama of contemporary French cultural celebrities, published on two occasions, albeit unfinished, once in 1854 and once in 1858. For some of the c. 300 figures (Honoré de Balzac and Victor Hugo, among them) Nadar had recourse to already existing portrait photographs. And following this use of photography, Nadar decided to establish himself as a photographer, initially with his brother Adrien Tournachon (1825–1903). In 1854–5 the two brothers produced a series of portraits of the mime artist Charles Deburau, illustrating various expressions, for example Surprise and Terror. In translating the emotions, according to the studies of the neurologist Guillaume Benjamin Duchenne de Boulogne, Adrien, with his interest in theatre, played an important role in this partnership. A number of his own portraits, for example that of the critic Jules Husson Champfleury, and his self-portraits have nothing to fear from comparison with those by Félix. Eventually, relations between the two brothers deteriorated and led to two lawsuits in 1856–7, during the course of which Félix claimed exclusive right to the pseudonym Nadar. This affair showed a lack of solidarity between them from which the weaker Adrien never recovered.
In 1958 Nadar took the first known aerial photograph from a hot air balloon suspended above the city of Paris. This picture, which has since been lost, sparked a vogue for aerial photography, a practice that dovetailed with the late nineteenth-century mania for photography itself, and the attendant desire to render the whole world into an image. He also pioneered the use of artificial lighting in photography, working in the catacombs of Paris.
See also Honoré Balzac.
Wiley, C. (2013), ‘Eduard Spelterini’, Il Palazzo Enciclopedico Short Guide, p.176
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