Friday, August 17, 2012

Nadar's portraits: the faces behind the art

Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, a.k.a. Félix Nadar, ran "the preeminent portrait emporium in Paris" according to the Met, which owns the self-portrait at right. The images below are from a cache of studies he did of artists, musicians, and writers—many of whom were his friends. The people depicted are so much a part of our culture, yet these particular images were a revelation, to me at least, and a welcome gloss on their work. See if you can ID them; results after the break.

His music "is such stuff as dreams are made on."
They did sport some scraggly beards in the 19th century!
Champion of the common people
His work certainly shocked the bourgeosie!
Heaven, hell, poetry, and fairy tales
His artistry was arduous
Under the sea and to the moon
Looking suitably diabolical
Sister-in-law of one of the above

Claude Debussy, Claude Monet, Victor Hugo, Edouard Manet, Gustave Doré, Auguste Rodin, Jules Verne, Charles Baudelaire, Berthe Morisot. Below, "Young Girl With Cage" by Berthe Morisot and "Berthe Morisot" by Manet (his brother Eugène was married to Morisot).

Further reading from our stacks: Rodin's Monument to Victor Hugo; Manet and the Sea.


  1. I knew Debussy from a libretto of Pelleas et Melisande, but who is that well-fed chap posing as Victor Hugo? I've always seen him dour and bearded. This bon type looks like the fellow who kissed the girls and made them cry!

  2. Well, that was a fun quiz (in which I did terribly). Victor Hugo (in his well-fed phase) is very distinctive, and I recognized Jules Verne, but none of the others. I also know the Manet portrait of Morisot, but had no idea what either looked like in real life. (Manet looks remarkably like a non-scruffy version of Garth Hudson, organist and accordion player for The Band.) Don't think I've seen a photo anywhere before of Doré; he was quite an interesting looking character.

  3. These are great! I didn't fare so well but had fantastic time trying! Victor Hugo is my talking point as well. Didn't look like he ever had to steal a loaf of bread:) I wish authors/public figures still posed for this type of portrait. Love 'em...

  4. I've been researching a bit, and the reason "Victor Hugo" looks so strange is he's Alexandre Dumas!

    1. Hah! (So much for believing what you read on the Internet.) Many many years ago I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame (from 1831) and The Count of Monte Cristo (1844) in the same few weeks, and never can remember which guy wrote which book. Or, apparently, what each author looks like. (Victor — the real Victor — looks a bit like Ed Asner on a bad day.)

  5. They say that M. Dumas had 40 mistresses and 4 love children. I'd say that qualifies as having kissed the girls and made 'em cry.