A French photographer and painter, Jacques Henri Lartigue is best known for the spontaneous, joyful photographs that bring forth his informal approach to everyday subjects and reveal his free spirit and love of life. Throughout his career, he was guided by the search for an idyll that could not be upset by profound traumas. Richard Avedon, who first met Lartigue in the 1960s, once said about him:
Lartigue did what no photographer had done before and what nobody did subsequently: photograph his own life.
The story of this photographer and his rediscovery is currently being charted at Casa dei Tre Oci in Venice. His most extensive retrospective ever to be organized in Italy, the exhibition The Invention of Happiness brings together 120 images, 55 of which previously unknown, all sourced from Lartigue’s personal photograph albums, some pages of which will be on display in facsimile form.
The display is accompanied by archive materials, including books such as the Diary of a Century, magazines from the period, a diaporama with pages from the albums, three stereoscopes with images representing snowy landscapes and elegant Parisian settings.
Born in 1894 in Courbevoie, France, Jacques Henri Lartigue received his first camera at the age of seven from his father, who was a businessman passionate about photography. This is when he began taking and developing his own photographs, capturing the world around him - relatives, friends and, generally, the everyday life of the middle class.
Over the years, Lartigue became drawn to the movement, photographing cars and airplanes. Pursuing the cult of happiness, he began photographing elegant ladies of La Belle Époque, strolling along the Bois de Boulogne. As Denis Curti wrote in his text in the catalogue:
For Lartigue photography becomes the means to exhume life, to relive happy moments, again and again.
For a while, he devoted himself to painting, while also working as a set designer, illustrator and still photographer. In 1955, he exhibited his photographs for the first time at the Galerie d’Orsay, alongside works by Brassaï, Doisneau and Man Ray. His true recognition only arrived in 1963, when MoMA devoted a one-man show to him, The Photographs of Jacques Henri Lartigue. By 1974, he became the official photographer of the French President.
The exhibition in Venice spans Lartigue's entire career, from the early 20th century until the 1980s, structuring around significant moments of the rediscovery of his work. The display begins with the exhibition at the MoMA, which featured his works in the period prior to the First World War.
The exhibition will also present Diary of a Century, a volume published in 1970 after Richard Avedon asked him to create a work in the form of a “photographic journal”, showing a little more of the material in Lartigue’s archives.
The final sections focus on the subsequent decades, when he began collaborating with the world of cinema and fashion. However, the artist continued to focus on everyday life, capturing its peculiar moments.
Other highlights include the memoir Lartigue wrote between 1960s and 1970s and the original unrestored video created by the Italian photographer Elisabetta Catalano in 1982, Bonjour Monsieur Lartigue.
Curated by Marion Perceval and Charles-Antoine Revol, respectively director and project manager of the Donation Jacques Henri Lartigue, and Denis Curti, artistic director of La Casa dei Tre Oci, The Invention of Happiness will be on view at Casa dei Tre Oci in Venice until January 10, 2020.
The exhibition is accompanied by the bilingual Marsilio Editori catalog, with the essays by Marion Perceval, Denis Curti and an unpublished testimony by Ferdinando Scianna who met the photographer.
Featured images: Installation Views © Luca Zanon. All images courtesy of Casa dei Tre Oci.