In the wider world, the photographer Nadar (Gaspard Félix Tournachon) is best known for the fact that it was in his former studio on the Boulevard des Capucines that the Impressionists held their first group exhibition in 1874.
His studio was one of the many that proliferated in Paris from
the 1850s once collodion-on-glass negatives came into use, but
Nadar - already famous as a bohemian intellectual, writer,
publisher, skilled caricaturist, critic and reviewer of vaudeville
theatre - was also one of the best-known photographers of his time.
Portraits were his particular forte.
Photographic talent ran in the family. Nadar funded his brother
Adrien to take an apprenticeship with the pioneering photographer
Gustave le Gray and also came to the rescue financially when
Adrien's studio was threatened with financial collapse.
This 11 x 8in (28 x 20cm) salt print of a Pierrot, peering
exaggeratedly at a basket of fruit, which came up for sale in the
two-session sale of photography held by Phillips De
Pury in New York on October 4, is a mid-1850s example of
collaborative work by the two brothers and an image which links
together many of Nadar's theatrical interests.
The subject of the portrait is Charles Deburau, a mime artist
from the Théatre des Funambules, with which Nadar was very
familiar. Dubureau was a famous exponent of the revival of the
commedia dell'arte character, just like his father Baptiste before
him (who served, incidentally, as the model for the Pierrot
character in Jean Louis Barrault's famous film Les Enfants du
The study is one of a series showing Pierrot in a range of
têtes d'expressions or characteristic exaggerated poses.
Other Pierrot prints in the series are in the Metropolitan and the
Museum of Modern Art in New York, and one in the Musée D'Orsay
shows the Pierrot character as a photographer with a camera on a
Although the photographer brothers collaborated on several
projects, they had also become rivals in their profession by this
time. Indeed, when the Pierrot series was exhibited at the
Exposition Universelle of 1855, it won a gold medal that
was awarded to the younger brother Adrien alone, who had taken to
calling himself Nadar Jeune.
A long-running lawsuit from his elder brother followed and
shortly after Adrien found financial backing to open his own studio
by October 1855 under the name of Tournachon Nadar et
The print offered at Phillips de Pury, with a provenance to a
private Parisian collection, bears the stamp Nadar Jne to
the reverse. What makes this particular print additionally
attractive is the presence of a small doodle at the side of the
figure by Deburau, signed and dedicated to his collaborator
The image, which was estimated at an already substantial
$150,000-200,000, ended up more than doubling that level to make
$450,000 (£300,000) plus buyer's premium.
By Anne Crane
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