Photographs of Mime Deburau as Pierrot the Clown, c. 1855
Friday, April 21st 2023
by Nadar Jeune
A painter by trade, Adrien Tournachon was the younger brother of Félix Tournachon aka Nadar (1820-1910), a famous author, cartoonist and journalist of the mid-18th century.
In 1853, Félix introduced his brother to Gustave Le Gray, who taught Adrien everything about photography. The following year, Adrien opened his own studio at 11 boulevard des Capucines in Paris with the help of Nadar, who acted as guarantor for the Laffitte and Blount bank.
So his brother could benefit from his own notoriety, Félix suggested that Adrien sign his photographs “Nadar Jeune” (Young Nadar). He also introduced Adrien to mime Deburau, whom Adrien worked with on a series of photographs called “Têtes d’expressions” (Expressive Heads).
Intrigued by the rise of photography and the success that this new art form was starting to achieve, Nadar took classes with Camille d’Arnaud and opened his own studio at 113 rue Saint-Lazare, Paris in 1855.
Félix subsequently asked his brother to stop using the names “Nadar” and “Nadar Jeune”, but Adrien ignored this request and his Pierrot the Clown Series signed “Nadar Jne” was selected as part of the first exhibition of photographs taking place during the French Wold Fair of April 1855.
These pictures were hugely successful, earning “Nadar Jeune” a First class medal at the exhibition. This award caught the eye of Doctor Duchenne, a Boulogne physician who commissioned Adrien to take portraits for his famous book on “The Mechanism of Human Physiognomy”.
In October 1855, Adrien and his associates founded a company called “Tournachon, Nadar Jeune & Co.” whose headquarters were located at 17, boulevard des Italiens in Paris. In January 1856, they were awarded the title of “Photographers of H.M. the Empress”. That same year, an advertisement for the company illustrated with a portrait of Pierrot the Clown Photographer showed two addresses, one on Boulevard des Italiens and the other on Boulevard des Capucines.
Annoyed by his brother’s success and most of all by the use of his own alias, Félix - who in the meantime had also become a famous photographer - sued Adrien in 1856, obtaining exclusive rights to the “Nadar” name in 1857.
Following the court’s decision and perhaps by fear that the original negative films and prints signed “Nadar jeune” be seized, it is presumed that Adrien Tournachon duplicated the Pierrot the Clown Series so as to keep copies of these pictures. Moreover, in the book “Les Nadar, une légende photographique” (BnF. 2018), Mathilde Falguière writes in her article on “Le fonds d’atelier Nadar: sauvetage et traitement” (“Saving and exploiting the contents of Nadar’s studio”): “Early on, the Nadars started duplicating their negatives and prints in order to change their design or their style: hence, several negatives may have matched one picture”.
In 1858, Adrien and his associates closed the Tournachon, Nadar Jeune & Co. Company. Three years later, Adrien started a new business under the name “Photographie des Champs-Élysées, Joannès et Cie, Adrien Tournachon Jeune, 124 avenue des Champs-Élysées”.
However, this new company soon ceased operations; before the contents of its studios were sold in 1862, Félix Nadar bought the rights to his brother’s works and printed them as portrait-adorned visitation cards that he signed “Nadar”. From that point on, most portraits of personalities photographed by Adrien Tournachon were erroneously attributed to Félix Nadar.
- The “Nadar” alias comes from the nickname given to Félix Tournachon by his friends, who called him “Tournadard” because the artist used to end some words with the suffix “-dard”.
- In June 2012, an albumen print of “Pierrot the Clown Listening” was sold by Rouillac Auctioneers for 48,000 €. Two stamps could be found on this print, one reading "Adr. Tournachon Jne & C° Photographes de S M l'Impératrice 17 Bd des Italiens Paris" and the other "Les Salons de Paris Tournachon Photogr. de S. M. l'Impératrice Rue Le Peletier, 17 Bd des Italiens".
- The poster that caused discord: edited in 1856 and illustrated with "Pierrot the Clown Photographer" to promote the new company created by Adrien Tournachon and his associates, the advertisement used the “Nadar Jne” alias that achieved to convince Félix to sue his brother in order to get exclusive rights to the Nadar name.
translated by Sabine Vincenot