No one explored notions of celebrity and portraiture more exhaustively during the nineteenth century than French photographer Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, known as Nadar. Not only a photographer, but also a printmaker, cartoonist, and hot air balloonist, he moved in bohemian circles and was friends with many of France’s most prominent cultural figures. He opened his Paris photographic studio in 1854, and also ran a thriving business making small cartes de visite for his clients, most of them members of the Parisian elite.
Nadar rejected the formal poses that were then the norm in celebrity portraits, instead making photographs that conveyed the romantic and free artistic spirit of his subjects, and a sense of the photographer’s intimacy with them. In this portrait, French writer and critic Théophile Gautier’s bohemian appearance reinforces his image as an iconoclast who did not adhere to social norms. This and Nadar’s other portraits exemplify how celebrated and prominent figures used photographic portraiture to construct and establish their public personas early in the history of the medium.