This is the first major showing in Britain of the work of the acclaimed French photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue (1894-1986). On loan for the first time outside of Paris, and central to the exhibition, are 100 photo albums that form an extraordinary and compelling record of life in twentieth century France. 120 framed photographs are shown alongside, including rarely-seen vintage prints, and some of his cameras and diaries. The exhibition has been organised by the Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris and the Donation Jacques Henri Lartigue. It opened at the Hayward Gallery, South Bank Centre, on June 24th 2004 and will be shown until September 5th-
From the age of six, Lartigue avidly photographed his family and friends. Enamoured with life, he delighted in using his camera to capture moments of happiness. Over the next 85 years he created an extraordinary archive of albums. Fashionable beauties, French high society at play, the Côte d'Azur, motor racing exploits and early experiments in flight: Lartigue photographed them all with breathtaking ease, spontaneity and vitality, revealing himself as an innocent modernist and an innate genius with the camera.
Some of Lartigue's most captivating images are of sensationally stylish ladies through the ages, including his three wives and his lovers. He married Madeleine Messager, ('Bibi'), in 1919; they had two children Dani and Véronique. In 1930 Renée Perle, a Romanian-born professional model became both his companion and favourite muse for two years. He then married Marcelle 'Coco' Paolucci in 1934. He met his third wife, Florette Orméa in Monte Carlo in 1942.
Throughout his life Lartigue moved freely in artistic, aristocratic and political circles. Among the many well-known friends and acquaintances he photographed were the French stage stars Sacha Guitry and Yvonne Printemps; artists such as Picasso and Jean Cocteau; and film directors including François Truffaut and Federico Fellini. He met John F Kennedy in France in the 50s and, in 1974, was appointed official photographer to mark Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's seven years as the President of France.
Although he exhibited with fellow photographers such as Brassaï, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Man Ray, Lartigue found international fame only in his late sixties, when his first solo exhibition, selected by the renowned curator and writer on photography John Szarkowski, opened to rave reviews at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1963. The exhibition, together with the publication of a portfolio of his photographs in Life magazine, put Lartigue on the map and his best-known images, most of which are included in the Hayward exhibition, are now icons of twentieth-century photographic history.
Lartigue was born in Courbevoie, France in 1894, into one of France's wealthiest families. The family moved to Paris in 1899. A year later Lartigue took his first photographs with his father's help and camera. Soon he was developing photographic prints and noting down his thoughts and impressions on pieces of paper, which were to become the beginnings of his lifelong diary. An unfailingly curious amateur, he experimented with all the available photographic techniques, from stereoscopic images and autochromes to multiple exposures, meticulously arranging his several thousands of images in large albums. In 1915 he attended the Académie Jullian to study painting, which he pursued professionally and from 1922 onwards he exhibited in the salons of Paris and southern France. In 1979 Lartigue donated his entire photographic collection to the French State, which later formed the Donation Jacques Henri Lartigue. He died in Nice in 1986.
A fully-illustrated hardback catalogue, Lartigue: Album of a Century, accompanies the show. It includes facsimile pages from Lartigue's albums accompanied by six essays written by experts on his work: Quentin Bajac, Clément Chéroux, Maryse Cordesse, Martine d'Astier, Kevin Moore and Alain Sayag. Available at the Hayward Gallery Shop at a special exhibition price of £35. (ISBN: 1-85332-242-3) Thames & Hudson's hardback edition of Lartigue: Album of a Century will also be available in bookshops nationwide (25 June 2004, £48.00, ISBN: 0-500-54291-0).