Jacques Henri Lartigue (1894-1986)

An Exhibition at the Czartoryski Museum (Arsenal), ul. Pijarska 8, April 19th - June 17th 2007.

One of the first photographs in this exhibition takes us to Jacques Henri Lartigue's childhood bedroom, 1905. The budding artist was eleven years old at the time, and the image offers one of the few calm moments in the entire exhibition. That said, there's a fairly strong clue here as to what's coming. For there on the floor of his bedroom, the young Lartigue has proudly lined up twelve of his finest toy cars. In an auction today, such antique toys would probably fetch more than Lartigue's photographs themselves, had it not been for a fortuitous encounter in 1963. For although he began snapping away aged six, it was not until Lartigue was sixty-six that fame as a photographer arrived. This lucky break led to a show in New York's Museum of Modern Art, and the rest, as they say, is history. This spring, Cracow is also in for a spot of luck, as 89 of Lartigue's pictures have come on show in what's one of the most fantastic exhibitions of recent years.

Above: 'Grand Prix de Circuit de la Seine', June 26th 1912, by Jacques Henri Lartigue

Lartigue was electrified by the thrill of motion. Even as a young boy he was constantly cajoling friends to leap over chairs, jump off staircases and generally endanger themselves for the good of his art. He was mad about motorcars and flying machines, and his images now seem like a gallery of the modern world wrenching into life. His parents, a wealthy French couple, were happy to take their son to car races, and hence began Lartigue's love affair with automobiles. His well-heeled background also gave him ease of access to jet-set circles, and the glorious shots of ladies walking their doggies in Belle Epoque splendour offer much entertainment. The pictures move on into the roaring twenties and thirties, with the consequent changes in fashions. And what with Lartigue being a companion of famed beauty Renee Perle, there are more iconic pictures to savour.

The exhibition doesn't really present the whole picture. Two World Wars hardly feature. However, there are a couple of contemplative moments. Yet all in all, Lartigue didn't take himself that seriously as a photographer. (He was more interested in being a painter, and even that he did in gentlemanly style). He had the talent for the more sombre stuff but he preferred more upbeat subject matter. But we shouldn't complain - Lartigue has left us one of the richest collections of his age, and the Cracow show is a perfect introduction . Don't miss it.

 

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