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Arts of Europe

The MFAH collections of art created on the European continent encompass artistic styles across the time line of history, from the ancient world to the Middle Ages, and the Early Modern era to the 21st century.

French, 1820 - 1910
Alexandre Dumas, père
Salted paper print

9 3/4 x 7 7/16 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Museum purchase funded by the Brown Foundation Accessions Endowment Fund

Arts of Europe

By focusing on the directness of his gaze and the wildness of his hair, this photograph captures the wit and energy of Alexander Dumas père, famed author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. The photographer, Nadar, concentrated on the psychological aspects of portraiture and is one of the most important portraitists of the 19th century.

A pioneer of early photography, Gaspard Fèlix Tournachon, who adopted the pseudonym of Nadar at the beginning of his career, became one of the first photographers to promote portraiture commercially to enhance the public image of the sitter. Because Nadar started as an accomplished satirical caricaturist, his portraits conveyed the personalities of his photographic subjects. He was adept at locating the distinct and revealing elements of their faces.

As a journalist, ringmaster, political agitator, balloonist, caricaturist, and novelist, the charismatic Nadar was in a position to befriend many of the most important cultural figures in France. In the 1840s, he became friends with his idol, Alexandre Dumas père. (Père is the French title to distinguish father from son, similar to "Sr." in English.) Nadar had long admired Dumas, and in fact an earlier portrait of Dumas hung in Nadar's childhood room. They made plans to collaborate on a play together in 1855, but the project never came to fruition.

Nadar opened his first photography studio in 1854. Six years later he moved it to 35 Boulevard des Capucines, a large space that his colleagues—photographers Gustave Le Gray and the Bisson brothers—had vacated. Nadar left the studio's operation to others but continued to entertain friends and intellectuals there. In 1874 his son, Paul Nadar, became the manager. Paul carried on his father's innovative spirit, continuing to experiment, exploring artificial lighting and methods for animating still pictures.

To view specific works by Nadar in the collection, contact the Museum's Works on Paper Study Center for an appointment.