Félix Nadar (1820
) is the name adopted by photographer Gaspard-Félix Tournachon
. Nadar was born in Paris
, son of a printer. He was also an illustrator and writer, and was very well known by many French intellectuals.
He attended a lycée in Versailles, and moved to Lyon with his family at age 18. He tried and quit medical school, and after his father died, Nadar became a theatre critic, but returned to Paris to become a bohemian. He found odd jobs, but largely sustained himself with his journalistic writings. In the 1840s, he wrote for newspapers, and took up caricature, and developed the artist signature "Nadar".
In his time writing for newspapers, Nadar was a sympathizer for the Polish exiles, and in an attempt to liberate them, was captured in Germany, and sent back to his native France.
He was forced to stay awhile in a prison because he could not pay his debts. When released, he went to London, England, to see the Great Exhibition. Inspired by this, Nadar presented the "Pantheon Nadar", which was a series of 300 lithographic caricatures of prominent contemporary French personalities.
In 1853, he provided photographic equipment to his younger brother Adrian Tournachon, took some lessons in photography, then set up his own studio on the roof of his house. Nadar's popularity, and consequent wealth, increased, and his brother became near forgotten, and eventually Nadar took legal action to prevent unsolicited use of the name "Nadar".
In 1860, Nadar opened a beautiful, new studio, with his signature across the exterior. Most of his photographic work was portraiture, but in time he went on to documentary photography. In April, 1874, he lent out his studio to some Impressionist painters, so that they could bypass the "Salon" of Paris, and thereby made possible the first Impressionist exposition.
He was a fan of hot-air balloons, and in 1863, became president of, and turned his studio into the headquarters for, The Society for the Encouragement of Aerial Locomotion by Means of Heavier than Air Machines.
Jules Verne was his secretary. In his balloon, Le Géant, Nadar was the first to take aerial photographs, and at the age of 50, he used his balloon to take outgoing mail of of beseiged Paris. Soon, though, he had little money left, and turned his business over to his son, Paul. Nadar died at 89.
Where to find his work:
Chrysler Museum, Virginia, USA
Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio, USA
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, USA
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, USA
Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France
National Portrait Gallery, London, England