Two very quirky boyhood photographs by the celebrated amateur French photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue (1894-1986) come for sale at Chiswick Auctions this month. Mounted together 'Descent of the Rabbit' and ‘The Rabbit has Arrived’ have a guide of £10,000-£15,000 as part of the May 31 sale of 19th and 20th Century Photographs.
The pair of silver gelatin prints document an episode in September 1911 when Lartigue and his brother, fondly nicknamed Zissou, constructed a loop-de-loop track which transported the family's unsuspecting rabbits and chickens in a tailor-made car. ‘Descent' showing the wooden track descending from a second-floor window is framed alongside ‘Arrived’ that depicts a family pet emerging apparently unscathed from the journey.
Lartigue wrote in his diary of the experiment, "Thanks to the inventive genius of my brother, our hens and rabbits were lucky enough to find themselves guinea pigs, and thus able to experience many strong acrobatic emotions which were denied to us!...Our parents need not have worried, there were no accidents in spite of the fact that our little roller coaster took off from the second floor window. After their free rides our small friends tottered away as if drunk - on excitement no doubt."
"The world for me is like an immense parkland" - a parkland that Lartigue captured with his trademark curiousity, inquisitive wit, and charming spontaneity through his amateur lens. Lartigue was taught to use a camera by his father at the age of 7, and documented his privileged, playful life from this early age. His images of fast racing cars, promenading Parisian ladies, and daring airplanes would come to define the elegance and innovation of Belle Epoque France.
Between 1979 and 1986, Lartigue gifted his archive to the French State, which is now kept at the Médiathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine (MAP, Charenton-le-Pont). Lartigue's third wife Florette, who he married in Paris in 1945, aided in the donation, and the couple selected a number of prints from the archive and Lartigue's personal albums that would be kept for the family. After Lartigue died in 1986, the prints became a part of Florette's personal collection, which included the two prints presented here. Between 1979 and 1986, Lartigue gifted his archive to the French state.
These two prints were formerly in the personal collection of Lartigue's third wife, Florette (née Ormea) who he married in Paris in 1945.