JACQUES HENRI LARTIGUE (1894-1986)
Aquarium (France, 1929)
Not for Sale
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated 1929 lower middle right
Description / Expertise
Born into one of the wealthiest families of France, Jacques Henri Lartigue was given a camera by his father when he was eight years old. Feverishly, he recorded the happy days of his childhood, capturing on film transient moments he feared to lose. Elegant ladies leap from walls and staircases, the skirts of their corseted dresses caught mid-air. Pets run, fall, leap and bounce and couples promenade along sweeping Parisian boulevards and windswept beaches. These treasured memories were also described enthusiastically in written journals where he records and illustrates in detail the events of the day; a ritual he practised to the end of his life. Lartigue wrote, photographed or painted nearly every day of his adult life and themes and compositions that impressed him in adolescence quietly resurface in his later work.
First and foremost, Lartigue considered himself a painter. He enrolled as a pupil of art at the Académie Julian in 1915, exhibited his paintings at both the Galerie Georges Petit and the Salon d’Automne in 1922, and continued to exhibit in Paris until 1939. At the end of the Second World War, commercial pressures resulted in Lartigue favouring photography over painting. The Museum of Modern Art in New York honoured him with a retrospective exhibition in 1963.
Aquarium was painted in 1929 during his marriage to Bibi Messager, in the dark years of the great economic crash. The soft hazy interior has a timeless serenity far removed from the financial crisis; the sculptural monumentality of the composition reflects the current Art Deco movement. In his photography, Lartigue played the game piege d’oeil, where he would spin around like a top and all of sudden halt and snap a photograph. The unusual viewpoint of the goldfish bowl is, perhaps, a piege d’oeil in paint; very different to the hard-edged, two dimensionality of his commercial portraits.(1)
The fishbowl re-emerges the next year, during his two-year affair with Renée Perle, a beautiful Romanian whom he had met in 1930. In a series of serene photographs, Renée gazes past the camera, her sleek ebony kiss curls and long-lashed doll’s eyes make her an icon of glamour and the first ‘real woman’ Lartigue claimed to have met. On pages of Lartigue’s personal photographic album, inscribed Novembre – Paris – (Renée – moi) he framed her elegant, jewelled hand calmly resting on the Aquarium.
1. Lartigue continued painting portraits to make a living from 1920 until 1943.