Who doesn’t know Nadar? In 19th-century France, that was a rhetorical question (repeated in many of his biographies). With this book which is nothing less than the first Nadar’s biography in English, Adam Begley wants to reestablish Nadar’s universal fame. According to Begley, of all of the legendary figures who thrived in mid-19th-century Paris–a cohort that includes Victor Hugo, Baudelaire, Gustave Courbet, and Alexandre Dumas–Nadar was perhaps the most innovative, the most restless, the most modern. And this book aims to reinstate this status.
The first great portrait photographer, a pioneering balloonist, the first person to take an aerial photograph, and the prime mover behind the first airmail service, Nadar was one of the original celebrity artist-entrepreneurs. A kind of 19th-century Andy Warhol, he knew everyone worth knowing and photographed them all, conferring on posterity psychologically compelling portraits of Manet, Sarah Bernhardt, Delacroix, Daumier and countless others–a priceless panorama of Parisian celebrity.
Born Gaspard-Felix Tournachon, he adopted the pseudonym Nadar as a young bohemian, when he was a budding writer and cartoonist. Later he affixed the name Nadar to the facade of his opulent photographic studio in giant script, the illuminated letters ten feet tall, the whole sign fifty feet long, a garish red beacon on the boulevard. Nadar became known to all of Europe and even across the Atlantic when he launched “The Giant,” a gas balloon the size of a twelve-story building, the largest of its time. With his daring exploits aboard his humongous balloon (including a catastrophic crash that made headlines around the world), he gave his friend Jules Verne the model for one of his most immortal heroes.
A lavishly illustrated biography, particularly enlightning in regard to the visionnary character, the outsized nature and the canny self-promotion of the “Great Nadar.” Editor’s website