Modern and Contemporary Art
Jacques Henri Lartigue (13 June 1894 – 12 September 1986) started taking photos at the tender age of 6. He was a man who rejoiced in life, a photographer with an insatiable fascination for all that surrounded him. Throughout his life, Lartigue photographed his family and friends at play – running and jumping, racing wheeled soap boxes, building kites, golf, tennis, skiing, swimming and diving, gliders and aeroplanes, climbing the Eiffel Tower and so on.
Lartigue also photographed many famous sporting events, including automobile races such as the Coupe Gordon Bennett and the French Grand Prix, early flights by aviation pioneers including Gabriel Voisin, Louis Blériot, and Roland Garros, and tennis players such as Suzanne Lenglen at the French Open tennis championships.
Lartigue was friends with many literary and artistic celebrities including the playwright Sacha Guitry, the singer Yvonne Printemps, the painters Kees van Dongen, Pablo Picasso and the artist-playwright-filmmaker Jean Cocteau. He also worked on the sets of the film-makers Jacques Feyder, Abel Gance, Robert Bresson, François Truffaut and Federico Fellini, and many of these celebrities became the subject of his photographs. Fashionable Parisian women, including his own partners and companions, were amongst his favourite subjects.
This exhibition offers a wide selection of Lartigue’s photographs which captured with fresh perception and uninhibited grace the joie de vivre of fashionable well-to-do French society during and after the Belle Époque. Lartigue’s photographs reveal his persuasive charm and deep passion for the good life. They also reflect his intense love for the world around him. In an interview for his Autochrome book published in 1980, Lartigue remarked that “this tendency to choose unpleasant subjects is part of the sickness of our times; it makes men pave their way to their purgatory. But there must be a reaction against it and a return to Beauty.” For Lartigue, the joy of living was always there to be discovered, appreciated and shared.
Jacques Henri Lartigue
Jacques Henri Lartigue was unknown as a photographer until 1963, when, at 69 years old, his work was shown for the first time in a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. That same year, a picture spread published in Life magazine in an issue on John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s death also introduced Lartigue’s work to a wide public. Much to his surprise, he rapidly became one of the twentieth century’s most famous photographers.
Jacques Lartigue was introduced to photography as early as the year 1900 by his father, Henri Lartigue, who gave him his first camera in 1902, when Jacques was eight years old. From then on, Jacques recorded incessantly the world of his childhood, from automobile outings and family holidays to inventions by his older brother Maurice (nicknamed Zissou). Born into a prosperous family, the two brothers were fascinated by cars, aviation and sports currently in vogue; Jacques used his camera to document them all. As he grew up, he continued to frequent sporting events, participating in and recording such elite leisure activities as skiing, skating, tennis or golf.
But young Jacques, acutely aware of the evanescence of life, worried that photographs were not enough to resist the passing of time. How could images taken in just a few seconds convey and retain all the beauty and wonder around him? In parallel to his photography, he therefore began keeping a diary, and continued to do so throughout his life.
He also took up drawing and painting in 1915. After briefly attending the Julian Academy in Paris, he became a professional painter, exhibiting his work from 1922 on in Paris and the south of France. In 1919, Jacques married Madeleine Messager, the daughter of composer André Messager; their son Dany was born in 1921. Jacques and Madeleine divorced in 1931.
Jacques circulated in high society until the early 1930s, when the decline of the Lartigue fortune forced him to look for other sources of income. But he refused to give up his freedom by taking on a steady job, and lived meagerly off his painting throughout the 1930s and 1940s. In the early 1950s, while pursuing his painting career, he also began to receive some recognition as a photographer.
In 1962, with Florette, his third wife, he sailed by cargo ship to Los Angeles. During their travels, they stopped in New York, where they met with Charles Rado, founder of the photo agency Rapho. After seeing Lartigue’s photographs, Rado introduced him to John Szarkowski, the newly appointed director of the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art. Szarkowski was so impressed that the following year, he organized the first-ever exhibition of Lartigue’s work.
A retrospective of Lartigue’s photographs was held in Paris’ decorative arts museum, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, in 1975—the year after the French president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, asked him to take his official portrait. In 1979, Lartigue signed an act donating his entire photographic output to the French government, the first living French photographer to do so; and mandated the Association des Amis de Jacques Henri Lartigue to conserve and promote his work. In 1980, his exhibition “Bonjour Monsieur Lartigue” was shown at the Grand Palais in Paris. He continued taking photographs, painting and writing until his death in Nice on September 12, 1986, at the age of 92, and left behind more than 100,000 photographs, 7,000 diary pages and 1,500 paintings.
Source: Donation Jacques Henri Lartigue