Félix Nadar



There is a photographer that has fascinated me for years “Félix Nadar”. Félix Nadar was the pseudonym of  ”Gaspard-Félix Tournachon” born in April 1820 in Paris and died in March 1910. Nadar was a photographer, and a friend of the painters, writers, and intellectuals in Paris during the time of Napoleon III. As an early pioneer of portrait photography he developed lighting concepts that are the basis studio work today. Earlier this year we were in Avignon and stumbled across a museum with an exhibit of over 100 of his photos, you can’t imagine how ecstatic I was to actually see his work up close ….



In many ways Nadar (Gaspard Mix Tournachon) typifies the best qualities of the bohemian circle of writers and artists that settled in Paris during the Second Empire. As a young man, he studied medicine in Lyon, but when his father’s publishing house went bankrupt in 1838, he was forced to earn his own livelihood. He began to write newspaper articles that he signed “Nadar.” In 1842 Nadar settled in Paris and began to sell caricatures to humour magazines. By 1853, although he still considered himself primarily a caricaturist, he had become an expert photographer and had opened a portrait studio. Nadar’s immediate success stemmed partly from his sense of showmanship. He had the entire building that housed his studio painted red and his name printed in gigantic letters across a 50-foot (15-metre) expanse of wall. The building became a local landmark and a favorite meeting place of the intelligentsia of Paris. When, in 1874, the painters later known as Impressionists needed a place to hold their first exhibit, Nadar lent them his gallery. He was greatly pleased by the storm the exhibit raised; the notoriety was good for business.
some photos taken by Félix Nadar
It was only natural that Nadar should have considered painters his friends, since he learned so much and borrowed so freely from their traditions, utilizing poses and lighting direction. In 1854 he completed his first “PanthéonNadar,” a set of two gigantic lithographs portraying caricatures of prominent Parisians. When he began work on the second “Panthéon-Nadar,” he made photographic portraits of the persons he intended to caricature. His portraits of the illustrator Gustave Doré (c. 1855) and the poet Charles Baudelaire (1855) are direct and naturally posed, in contrast to the stiff formality of most contemporaneous portraits. Other remarkable character studies are those of the writer Théophile Gautier (c. 1855) and the painter Eugène Delacroix (1855).

Nadar was a tireless innovator. In 1855 he patented the idea of using aerial photographs in mapmaking and surveying. It was not until 1858, however, that he was able to make a successful aerial photograph, the world’s first, from a balloon. This led Daumier to issue a satirical lithograph of Nadar photographing Paris from a balloon. It was titled “Nadar Raising Photography to the Height of Art.”

Nadar live a fascinating life as photographer, caricaturist, journalist, novelist and balloonist. Around 1863, Nadar built a huge (6000 m³) balloon named Le Géant (“The Giant”), thereby inspiring Jules Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon. Although the “Géant” project was initially unsuccessful Nadar was still convinced that the future belonged to heavier-than-air machines. Later, “The Society for the Encouragement of Aerial Locomotion by Means of Heavier than Air Machines” was established, with Nadar as president and Verne as secretary. Nadar was also the inspiration for the character of Michael Ardan in Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon. Personally  Nadar alongside Nickola Tesla would have to be some of the truly fascinating historical characters. He was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.


Most of the images in this article were drawn from the internet using CC licensing. When I started to write this article I thought it would be great to have a definitive collection of Nardars work, but I think that is something I will have to work on over a long period of time as its simply to vast and to diverse, for a basic blog article. Thanks you to those that contributed.


For more info about Nadar try

  • ISBN-10: 2070781003
  • ISBN-13: 978-2070781003

3 Responses to 'Félix Nadar'

  1. Steve says:

    Hay your posting again….

  2. jeremy widgery says:

    I read somewhere that he got his nickname because he finished all his phrases with dar….

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