Nadar : The First Large Portrait Photographer(1820-1910)

Nadar was born in 1920 and grew up in Paris, France. At birth, he was named Gaspard-Felix Tourchan. He was a multi-talented man who had was a caricaturist, a balloonist, a photographer, a novelist and a journalist. In all that he did, he was successful. However his success all other fields cannot be compared to the level of success he had in photography. He learnt this art from Gustave Le Gray and became a master artist. In his mid-thirties, Nadar thrived to become the first great portrait photographer in the whole world. Nadar specialized in Romanticism, a style of art which focuses on emotions, moods and feelings. Initially, Nadar worked from a darkroom in his garden apartment and perfected his skills by photographing his friends who came to visit him. Whereas his best portraits were taken in his home studio, he opened the preeminent portrait emporium in Paris which attracted many people to view his works. In this studio, he did his photography underground using artificial lighting.

Nadar was introduced to portrait photography by a friend in 1854.At this time, photography was perceived as a lucrative business. Also, it was a time when the technology of the new collodion on glass negatives was introduced. This technology made it easy to produce portraits in multiples. The portraits produced were as sharp as daguerreotypes where portraits were produced on silver platted sheets of copper that were highly polished.



Nadar’s portrait, Pierrot Laughing is one of his greatest works which was done in 1955 and is considered an enormous success by many scholars.The person in the photograph is Jean-Charles Deburau .The 27.3cm by 19.8cm portrait was done on a vernis-cuir (gelatin-coated salt print paper).  I chose the Pierrot Laughing portrait because it depicts different aspects of photography. First, it shows photography as a business. Nadar used this portrait for publicity .It was done during a time when Nadar’s business was struggling for promotion purposes and was highly successful (“Gallery Two”). Again, the portrait is a display of the cultural side of Paris. Charles was a famous comedian (mime) during his time .The people of Paris had a great appreciation for comedy and theatre plays during Nadar’s time. He used his portraits to communicate this aspect of their culture by photographing the famous actors. In addition, this portrait is an epitome of Nadar’s style of art, romanticism, displaying emotions of happiness.


Nadar photography captures all the elite of the Parisian culture (Rewald, Author:). He made portraits of great men and women of his such as Sarah Bernhardt, Alexandre Dumas and Hector Berlioz. In all the portraits, he   Nadar was the first artist to express the psychological side of photography. He used his skills to show the moral intelligence of his subjects (the people whose photos were taken by him).Photography gave him a channel through which he could communicate with them, size them up, grasp their ideas and habits and render a semblance that is familiar, which is the intimate resemblance. On their own, each of his works commanded respect and appreciation for the artist.

Each of Nadar’s work has helped me appreciate the current age in photo technology, the age of selfies. Through his works, I have learnt to appreciate the humble beginnings of photography where pioneers had to be partial scientists. Through experimentation in his laboratory, the dark room, Nadar was able to create a genre of art that is also a business. Again his art has helped me recognize that photography is a tool that can be used to speak about culture. Nadar made portraits of people who were considered cultural elites and these portraits can be used to learn the values of the Parisian culture by looking into the characters of the people he photographed. A combination of his works and imagination have been a great source of inspiration to both romantic writers and artists. His photography is admired all over the world.

Get a 10 % discount on an order above $ 100
Use the following coupon code :