Jacques Henri Lartigue  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Jacques Henri Lartigue (June 13, 1894 - September 12, 1986) was a French photographer and painter.

Born in Courbevoie (a city outside of Paris), he is most famous for his stunning photos of automobile races, planes and fashionable Parisian women from the turn of the century.

He started taking photos when he was 6, his subject matter being primarily his own life and the people and activities in it. As a child he photographed his friends and family at play – running and jumping, racing wheeled soap boxes, building kites, gliders and aeroplanes, climbing the Eiffel Tower and so on.

Although little seen in that format, many of his earliest and most famous photographs were originally taken in stereo, but he also produced vast numbers of images in all formats and media including glass plates in various sizes, some of the earliest autochromes, and of course film in 2 1/4” square and 35mm. His greatest achievement was his set of around 120 huge photograph albums, which compose the finest visual autobiography ever produced. While he sold a few photographs in his youth, mainly to sporting magazines such as La Vie au Grand Air, in middle age he concentrated on his painting, and it was through this that he earned his living, although he maintained written and photographic journals throughout his life. Only when he was 69 were his boyhood photographs serendipitously discovered by Charles Rado of the Rapho agency, who introduced him to John Szarkowski, then curator of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, who in turn arranged an exhibition of his work at the museum.

From this, there was a photo spread in Life magazine in 1963, coincidentally in the issue which commemorated the death of John Kennedy, ensuring the widest possible audience for his pictures. His first book, Diary of a Century was published soon afterwards in collaboration with Richard Avedon, and from then on innumerable books and exhibitions throughout the world have featured Lartigue's photographs. He continued taking photographs throughout the last three decades of his life, finally achieving the commercial success that had previously evaded this rather unworldly man.

Although best known as a photographer, Lartigue was a capable if not especially gifted painter and showed in the official salons in Paris and in the south of France from 1922 on. He was friends with a wide selection of 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. Lartigue, however, photographed everyone he came in contact with, his most frequent muses being his three wives, and his mistress of the early 1930s, the Romanian model Renée Perle.

His son, Dani Lartigue, as well as being a painter, is a noted entomologist specialising in butterflies, and is patron of a museum in St. Tropez which, alongside paintings and souvenirs of his father, contains an example of every French diurnal butterfly.

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