Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, known as Nadar (1820 April 6 – 1910 March 20), was a photographer, caricaturist, writer, and balloonist. He was born to the printer and bookseller Victor Tournachon (1771 October 13 – 1837 August 8) and Thérèse Maillet in Paris, though some sources say he was born in Lyon. His younger brother, Adrien Alban Tournachon (1825 August 8 – 1903 January 24), was also a photographer. Nadar's parents did not marry until Nadar was six years old, setting the stage for what was at the time a comparatively liberal upbringing: his father was the first French printer to publish Giacomo Casanova's Histoire de ma vie, and Nadar grew up reading the works of Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, and Eugène Delacroix, all of whom he would later associate with as a successful photographer and bohemian.
Entering medical school in 1837, Nadar supported himself by writing articles and drawing caricatures for newspapers. Finding he had more talent (and made more money) at his side job, he dropped out of medical school and began working as a journalist and artist full time. He rapidly gained success for his articles about politics, theater, and art, as well as his hundreds of caricatures, and he fell in with the Parisian literary avant-garde, forging long-lasting friendships with such figures as Charles Baudelaire, Jules Verne, Théophile Gaultier, George Sand, and Gerard de Nerval. As was common in bohemian circles at the time, he took on a mononymous nickname: Tournadar, a play on his last name, which he later shortened to Nadar.
In 1854, Nadar married Ernestine Constance Lefebvre (1836 July 2 – 1909 January 27), with whom he had one child, Paul Tournachon (1856 February 6 – 1939 September 1). Around this time, Nadar opened a photography studio. He did so initially in order to support his younger brother, who was a struggling portrait painter, and who Nadar thought would have more success in the growing field of portrait photography. Adrien, however, found little success at first, and it was Nadar's own work that would explode as an immediate and massive hit. Nadar photographed his friends among the Parisian literati, as well as political and military figures with whom he had made connections as a journalist. He claimed the ability to identify and elicit his subject's inner character through his photography, and developed a style that became instantly recognizable throughout France: bathing his subject's face in light, positioning her or him in front of a simple background, encouraging natural poses and expressions, and his own patented process of fading out the edges of his photographs made Nadar's portraits extremely life-like, dynamic, and psychologically revealing at a time when most were stiff and one-dimensional.
Nadar quickly outgrew his first studio and moved into a four-story building on the Boulevard des Capucines in the heart of Paris. Ever the ostentatious self-promoter, Nadar painted the outside and inside of the building bright red and affixed his name in massive, gas-lit letters across its front. Here, he would pioneer the use of artificial lights and push the technical and creative boundaries of photography as an art form.
Fascinated by flight, Nadar was the first to successfully take aerial photographs, taking pictures of Paris and its environs from hot air balloons as early as 1858. With Jules Verne he founded The Society for the Promotion of Heavier than Air Travel in 1862. Nadar was also the first to take subterranean pictures, photographing the Paris Catacombs and the Paris sewers using his patented artificial lighting systems. In 1863, he commissioned the construction of Le Géant, then the largest balloon ever made: Le Géant was 12 stories tall and constructed of 22,000 yards of silk sewn by 200 seamstresses. The basket of this behemoth was fashioned to resemble a two-story cottage, and contained a galley, a lavatory, and a developing room for Nadar's photographs. Le Géant's second voyage ended in disaster, crashing and injuring all aboard, including Nadar himself, who suffered two broken legs. Undeterred from flying, Nadar organized the 1st Balloon Company during the Seige of Paris in 1870-1, which took reconnaissance photographs of enemy troop formations, dropped propaganda leaflets, and successfully completed the first international airmail delivery.
Later in life, Nadar became a patron of the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Engravers, Etc. and hosted artistic salons for the group at his studio—artists belonging to this avant-garde collective would later come to be known as the Impressionists. He also returned to writing, penning an autobiography at the age of 80 entitled Quand j'etais photograph [When I was a Photographer] (1900 [trans. 2015]). He died on March 23, 1910 and is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
This album was kept by Nadar for sitters at his studio to sign. It is believed that the earliest entries represent celebrated figures who were sitting for sketches; but the bulk of the names contained in the album appear because the individuals were sitting for photographic portraits.
Over 400 names can be found in the album, and they comprise notables in the worlds of art, literature, music, dance, theater, and government. The majority of signatures are accompanied by examples of the artist's trade--such as a drawing, a poem, bars of music--or some greeting or observation. This list is arranged in alphabetical order; however, this list, created by Thomas Waldman, lists the sitters by leaf number within the volume.
Researchers should be aware that the handwriting of the signers of the album is often difficult to read, and that, for many, pseudonyms were frequently used. Whenever possible, given names and pseudonyms are included.
Transfer from Dental Medicine Library, University of Pennsylvania, 1985
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Sam Allingham (processed prior to 2013)
- Finding Aid Date
- 2020 September 18
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.