Jacques Henri Lartigue
THE RIVIERA
5 Jun – 20 Sep 2015

The grand old man of French black-and-white photography, Jacques Henri Lartigue (1894–1986) first visited the French Riviera with his camera and family when he was 11, and from then on he photographed the glamour and enchantment of the region. The self-taught photographer saw around him speed, joy and beauty, fleeting moments of happiness, all of which he carefully preserved in numerous photo albums and diaries. Most of the nearly 200 cheerful photographs in the exhibition were taken in the 1920s–1950s. They transport us to the golden age of the Riviera, with its aristocratic idleness, glamorous society, sporty beach life and parties lasting to the wee hours.

The Riviera (Fr. Côte d'Azur) first became a popular tourist destination in the late 19th century. The pinnacle of its glamour was in the early 20th century, when wealthy tourists and bon vivants populated the sunny coastal area. The mythic reputation of the area owed itself in part also to its popularity as a resort among artists and celebrities. In parallel with his personal narrative, Lartigue’s photographs also tell about the transformation of Riviera from the Belle Époque to an emancipated beach resort of the 1920s and a pleasure lovers’ paradise in between the war years. In Lartigue’s eyes, the French Riviera lost it glamour progressively after the war, becoming too crass and artificial. The change was also visible in his photographs, which began containing a new kind of sarcasm.

Lartigue was first and foremost a painter for whom photography was an all-consuming hobby and a lifestyle, but it was not until the age of 68 that he was discovered as a photographer in the USA through a set of lucky coincidences. During the last decades of his life, Lartigue enjoyed the acclaim of the public and his photographer colleagues, and in his native France his rise to fame was ultimately sealed in 1974, when the newly elected president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing commissioned Lartigue to take his official portrait.

Recording his own life and its moments of happiness was a full-time job, and Lartigue left behind 130 carefully compiled albums, some 150,000 photographs and 50,000 pages of diary notes, which comprise one of the most out-standing visual biographies of our time. Lartigue donated his work to the French state, and it is today administered by Donation Jacques Henri Lartigue. The exhibition is produced in collaboration with L’Association des Amis de Jacques Henri Lartigue and the French Ministry of Culture.

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