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The Boy and the Belle Époque

Louise Baring


An exploration of Jacques Henri Lartigue’s early photography and a vivid portrayal of Belle Epoque France

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As a little boy of seven or eight, Jacques Henri Lartigue was given his first camera, and soon was developing his own photographs. Born into a prosperous family, from childhood Lartigue acutely observed the social rituals of the upper echelons of society through his photography. The hand-held Kodak camera, first introduced in 1888, granted the young photographer flexibility to capture the fine details of eccentric family members at home, the elaborate social parade in the Bois de Boulogne, on the beach in Normandy and beyond. Classic images of motor cars and high fashion sit alongside previously unpublished photographs from the Lartigue archive. These images of family beau-monde and demi-monde life are not only evidence of a prodigious talent, but also offer an intimate, adolescent perspective of Belle-Époque Paris, the world of Proust, Debussy and the Nabis, before the outbreak of the First World War.

At a young age Lartigue mastered the medium of photography: this exploration of his extraordinary childhood is interwoven with a social and cultural portrait of the Belle Époque. Bonnard and Vuillard used the camera as a reference point for painting, Eugène Atget documented the architecture of the old Paris ahead of its developers, but Lartigue was the first to harness the immediacy of the snapshot, often capturing his subjects mid-gesture as in real life, creating a new visual language for the 20th century.

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'Delightful ... a testament to Lartigue’s intense love of the world and the pleasures it affords'
John Banville, Irish Times

Julian Barnes, London Review of Books

'A vivid insight into early 20th-century France … has the quirky intimacy of a family album'
Best Art Books of 2020, Sunday Times

'A titan of 20th-century photography who captured the spirit of his age'
Royal Photographic Society Journal

'Proustian ... distils an era through a charmed, yearning but sharp and original eye'
Financial Times

'Brings a wonderful clarity to his formative years ... beautiful, blithe, strange, addictive'
World of Interiors

'Baring engagingly sets out the context of the Lartigue family and supplies pocket biographies for the figures ... who populate Lartigue’s photographs'
William Boyd, The Spectator

'Lartigue's snatched portraits, for all the period details they capture, seem, like his previous images of speed and movement, oddly contemporary'

'Details a golden age as seen through the lens of an unusual photographer'

Vogue Italia

'Gives a spotlight to an era often overlooked by the First World War'
.Cent Magazine

'An affectionate memoir'
Mature Times

'Leafing through these pages is to experience the heyday of a bygone age'
The Lady

'Captures the carefree, haute-bourgeois lifestyle of the young photographer'
Financial Times

'Draws on Lartigue’s diaries and photograph albums to create a vivid impression of the photographer’s childhood, years during which he would produce an extraordinary body of work that would, in time, become synonymous with that era’ '
The New European

'Baring's scholarly book on child prodigy Jacques Henri Lartigue locates his photographs within the extraordinary era that they were made'
British Journal of Photography

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 24.0 x 19.0 cm

Extent: 192 pp

Illustrations: 150

Publication date: 16 April 2020

ISBN: 9780500021309

Contents List

Introduction • An Enclosed World • A Seaside Album • La Vie du Château • Prisoners of Pleasure • The Beauty of Speed • A Sporting Life • The End of an Era

About the Author

Louise Baring has written for The Economist, the Independent on Sunday Review, Vogue and the Daily Telegraph. She is the author of several books on photography: Martine Franck; Norman Parkinson: A Very British Glamour; Emmy Andriesse: Hidden Lens; and Dora Maar: Paris in the Time of Man Ray, Jean Cocteau, and Picasso.