Jacques-Henri Lartigue

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Jacques-Henri Lartigue was born in Courbevoie, France, on 13 June 1894. He was the son of a wealthy industrialist, and was brought up in an environment of moneyed comfort. His photographs, mostly taken as a child or young adult, document the activities of the European leisured classes before the First World War with singular wit and style.

Lartigue was first given a camera by his father, himself a keen amateur-photographer, at the age of seven, and quickly developed a passion for photography. In particular, he had a boyish enthusiasm for the camera’s ability to stop time, and found great satisfaction in freezing images of friends jumping, cars moving, planes flying and other similar visual conceits. He was helped by his father, whose penchant for sport and speed enabled the young Lartigue to access a rich source of subject matter. Then, in 1911, when his family moved to Paris, Lartigue expanded his repertoire by turning his lens towards the fashionable people of the Bois de Boulogne, so recording the urban sophistication of Europe’s most glamorous city.

In pursuing an adolescent passion for photography in this way, Lartigue unwittingly amassed a valuable social document of his class at play. The fact that he obsessively compiled his pictures into around 120 albums, helped to preserve the remarkable archive that he produced.

In 1915, Lartigue decided to become a painter, and it was thus that he subsequently made a living, which he supplemented by the occasional photographic shoot for magazines. It was only in 1963 that his talent as a photographer was first celebrated, when John Szarkowski, the young photography curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, rediscovered his albums and honoured him with a retrospective exhibition. This prompted an explosion of interest in his photography a valuable social history imbued with fun, style and innovative aesthetics that has continued apace ever since.

Jacques-Henri Lartigue died in Nice on 12 September 1986.