In 1995, the National Gallery of Victoria’s Women’s Association generously provided funds to enable us to acquire a substantial group of rare and important nineteenth-century French photographs. One of the gems of this collection is a photographic portrait of the celebrated author Alexandre Dumas (1802–1870), taken in 1855 by Félix Nadar.
Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (Nadar) was born in Paris in 1820. As a child he met Alexandre Dumas when the author brought manuscripts to his father, Victor Tournachon, to publish. After the death of his father in 1837, Nadar briefly pursued a medical career, which he later abandoned in order to write. In 1848 he received a five-year contract to work for the magazine Le Charivari and, that same year, founded his own magazine, Revue comique. He began to photograph in 1853 and the following year established his portrait gallery, ‘Pantheon Nadar’, in which he aimed to include photographs of all major French celebrities.
In the mid-1850s Nadar collaborated with Dumas on a play. Although this work was to remain unpublished, as a result of the project the writer posed for Nadar’s camera. The photograph captures the lively and vigorous nature of an author celebrated for such books as Les Trois Mousquetaires (1844) and Le Comte de Monte Cristo (1846). Nadar must have been particularly pleased with the result, as he hung a copy of this photograph in his own home. Today, with a resurgence of interest in the work of this influential French photographer, the Gallery is indeed fortunate to add such an impressive portrait to its collection.