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Biography of Jacques Henri Lartigue
Moi, Agay, 1919

Moi, Agay, 1919









Jacques Henri Lartigue was 69 years old in 1963 when he first presented a selection of his many photographs taken throughout his life at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. That same year, there was a photo spread of his work in the famous Life Magazine issue commemorating the death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. To his great surprise, Lartigue suddenly became one of the renowned photographers of the 20th century.

Lartigue learned about photography from his father as early as the year 1900. Henri Lartigue rewarded Jacques’s enthusiasm by buying him his first camera when he was 8 years old. Thus began the endless photographs of his childhood, including automobile outings, family holidays and especially his older brother Maurice’s inventions.
Both brothers were fascinated by cars, aviation, and all sports. Jacques’s camera captured each moment. As an adult, he continued to attend sporting events and to take part in elite sports such as skiing, skating, tennis and golf. However, ever mindful of the passage of time, he understood a snapshot cannot encompass all there is to say and to remember. He thus began keeping a journal and continued to do so his whole life.

Furthermore, he takes up drawing and painting. In 1915, he briefly attends the Julian Academy and thus painting became his main professional activity. From 1922 on, he exhibited his work in shows in Paris and in the south of France.

In the meantime, in 1919, Jacques married Madeleine Messager, the daughter of the composer André Messager, and their son Dani was born in 1921. Jacques and Madeleine divorced in 1931.
He reveled in high society and luxury until the beginning of the 1930’s when the decline of the Lartigue fortune forced him to search for other sources of income. He refused, however, to take on a steady job and so he scarcely gets by with his painting during the 30’s and 40’s.0

In the beginning of the 1950’s, contrary to the legend that he was a complete unknown, his work as a photographer is noticed. In 1962, he met Charles Rado of the Rapho Agency, who in turn contacted John Szwarkoski, the young curator of MoMA’s photography department. There was all-around enthusiasm for his work.

The first retrospective was held at Paris’ “Musée des Arts Décoratifs” in 1975. One year earlier, Lartigue was commissioned by the President of France Valéry Giscard d’Estaing to shoot an official portrait photograph. In 1979, a Donation Agreement was signed and Lartigue became the first living French photographer to donate his work to the nation. He authorized the Association des Amis de Jacques Henri Lartigue to preserve and promote the fund. He continued his work as a photographer, painter and writer until his death in Nice on September 12th 1986. He was 92 years old.

He left us with more than 100 000 snapshots, 7 000 pages of diary, and 1 500 paintings.


— Biography courtesy of Donation Jacques Henri Lartigue.