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  • George Sand and Nadar:Portraiture Between Lithography, Sculpture, and Photography

This article analyzes Nadar's portraits of George Sand in multiple media. With an emphasis on the famous 1854 lithograph, Panthéon-Nadar, in which Sand is represented in the form of a sculptural bust – a notable instance of nineteenth-century intermediality – it traces inter-relations between Nadar's images of Sand in lithography, caricature drawing, and photography, against the wider background of his innovative artistic and journalistic practices.It argues for the significant influence of biographical writing, as a form of textual portraiture, on Nadar's trans-medial visual depictions of Sand and other well-known writers, resulting in influential text-and-image representations of modern celebrity.

A WIDELY CELEBRATED AUTHOR at the time, George Sand writes to her editor Pierre-Jules Hetzel from her country home in Nohant on May 7, 1852, discussing the preparation of the complete, illustrated edition of her works. She suggests including an engraved portrait of herself, recounting that "[Alexandre] Manceau a fait de moi un petit portrait délicieux, ressemblant et pourtant joli," while pondering its possible future use: "je vous demande, moi, à l'insu de Manceau ce que vous comptez en faire. […] Cela nous serait bon pour nos éditions, pour mes mémoires, et j'en voudrais moi une cinquant[ain]e d'exemplaires pour mes amis et connaissances."1 Here the portrait serves both a public function, putting a face to a famous author's work—the two literally bound and received by her audience together in book form—and a private one, as an intimate token of the sitter. Over a decade later, in February 1863, Sand replies to a request by Gustave Flaubert to send him a portrait of her with the following lines: "Mes portraits sont rares, bien qu'on en vende de toutes sortes qui ne sont pas faits d'après moi. Je n'ai ici que de mauvaises épreuves. Quand j'irai à Paris je choisirai moi-même et je vous enverrai ce qu'il y aura de présentable" (Sand 17:448). Apart from her concern about how presentable her portraits are, the writer laments the lack of control over their dissemination, as they circulate apparently without her consent. In an attempt actively to regain control of her image and its use, Sand sat in front of the camera lens again from 1864, and on December 20, 1868, she personally places an order at a photographer's studio for a large number of carte-de-visite prints to be made: "Envoie-moi pour le jour de l'an, deux cents portrait-cartes de ma vieille figure […]. Je t'envoie les n[umér]os que je préfère" (Sand 21:266).

While the details are specific to Sand, these three letters indicate, albeit in fragmentary fashion, a general evolution in the function of the author portrait across a variety of media in nineteenth-century France, moving from physical juxtaposition with the author's texts in the form of illustrative front-matter, to a more freely circulating stand-alone image, which quickly moved into mass market dissemination, aided by the inexpensive carte-de-visite process. (Invented in 1854, it increased the speed and reduced the expense of photographic production by allowing for multiple images to be exposed on one sheet [End Page 111] of photo-sensitive paper.) Against this wider background, the present article considers portraits of Sand by Nadar, for the photographer she writes to in 1868 is none other than the famous portraitist of mid-nineteenth-century cultural celebrity. However, rather than focus on Nadar's photographic activity alone, I adopt a wider trans- and inter-medial perspective on his portrayals of Sand and his creative career, which began, in fact, in lithography, a dominant form of image-making in France from the 1810s onwards, decades before it was eclipsed by photography.2 Nadar's key role in co-creating, fueling, and satisfying nineteenth-century portraitomania was triple: taking the form of drawing, specifically caricatures of leading political and cultural figures (printed and distributed in the press through various engraving techniques); written biographical 'portraits' of his contemporaries; and, of course, his hugely influential photographic portraits. Moreover, in various ways these creative forms and activities notably overlapped in Nadar's work. For her part, Sand was among the most often visually depicted female writers in nineteenth-century France. Close friends with the photographer from the 1860s onwards, Sand was photographed by Nadar more than any other contemporary writer. His portraits of Sand thus provide the unique opportunity to trace the effects of the multiple visual media in question, their relationship with one another, and their creative interaction on the presentation of nineteenth-century literary authorship.

Nadar as portraitist

Today Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, alias Nadar, is undoubtedly best known for his photographic portraits of mid-nineteenth-century French artists, writers, intellectuals, actors, and other public figures, which have not only determined his artistic legacy, but profoundly shaped past and our contemporary perceptions of his sitters. However, as Loïc Chotard has examined in sustained and original fashion, Nadar was first and foremost a chronicler of political events, which he pursued in a variety of media and discourses, including journalism, caricature, art criticism, and biography.3 Similarly, Stephen Bann has warned against the "distorting effects of photographic exceptionalism," from which the scholarly assessment of Nadar's work has suffered particularly strongly (89).4 Even if Nadar's achievements in other forms of artistic expression have not been entirely neglected in scholarship, the advantage of a less photo-centric perspective on his creative output lies not least in a fuller acknowledgement of his multi-faceted implication in the phenomenon of portraitomania in both visual and textual forms, as well as in a recognition of his Panthéon as an independent work of art (rather than a preparatory, transitional work towards his 'true' destiny of photography). [End Page 112]

Nadar became a portraitist long before taking up photography in 1854. During nearly two decades, he collaborated, as a writer and draftsman, with the petite presse (the cheap, often short-lived newspapers that flourished at the time), commenting in light-hearted fashion on political and social events. In the mid- to late 1840s, Nadar's journalistic portraiture shifted from rather scattered feuilleton writing to a more systematic, serial form of political and cultural commentary. In 1847, the editor of the Journal du dimanche, Léo Lespès, commissioned Nadar to create a Galerie des gens de lettres (which appeared in three installments during August of the same year), consisting of one hundred portraits, together with written biographical information on the portrayed cultural figures. The caricature portraits were reproduced as wood engravings (the dominant technique used by the illustrated press of the time) and interspersed within the three columns of text. As Chotard has shown with reference to Nadar's visual drafts, accompanied by notes, the individuals represented in the Journal du dimanche were asked to sit for him to allow him to work from nature, as it were, and also to obtain the necessary biographical information for the texts of his Galerie in the form of these unconventional interviews.5 This method was typical for Nadar, and it was also part of the preparation of his famous Panthéon in the early 1850s.

Before he embarked on this monumental project, and indeed in parallel with it and subsequently, Nadar was in charge of a number of other portraiture projects for the presse satirique. Between 1848 and 1849, he created predominantly political text-and-image works for the Revue comique à l'usage des gens sérieux as well as for the Journal pour rire.6 Particularly attracted to Nadar for his "spécialité" of group caricature (Chotard, Nadar 42), Charles Philipon, the editor of the Journal pour rire, employed Nadar to work for a number of his publications, and became a life-long friend, mentor, and collaborator. Under Philipon's mentorship at the Journal pour rire, and likely fueled by a rivalry with fellow caricaturist Bertall, Nadar's style of group caricature developed into more complex figurations of numerous faces lining up in a procession-type march, prefiguring the form of his Panthéon (Chotard, Nadar 42).

This stylistic continuity is in stark contrast to the impact that the Coup d'état of December 2, 1851, had on Nadar's caricature. With political satire now falling under censorship laws, Nadar turned to his more immediate cultural and artistic contemporaries as the primary subjects for his portraiture between 1852 and 1862 (Chotard, Approches 234) and until his main occupations became ballooning and aerial photography. Further developing his Galerie des gens de lettres, in Philipon's Journal pour rire, in 1852, Nadar produced a galerie of contemporary authors, journalists, painters, and musicians, [End Page 113] titled Laterne magique, the innovation of which lies in its systematic approach to including biographical texts with his caricatures (Chotard, Nadar 45). Apart from these specific circumstances, Nadar's relatively unknown and certainly under-analyzed7 biographical activities are undoubtedly also a reflection of the wider biographical turn of French literary criticism and theory in the first half of the nineteenth century,8 which goes hand-in-hand with the wider phenomenon of portraitomanie due, in no small part, to SainteBeuve's biographical essays or "portraits" of contemporary, living authors.9

For the following ten years, Nadar collaborated in various forms on a number of further biography collections, including Les binettes contemporaines in 1854 (for which Nadar delivered the caricatures), the series Les contemporains de Nadar in Philipon's Journal amusant (from 1858), where he was charged with the writing of biographical texts as well as the drawing of the caricatures, and finally Le musée français, associated with the same journal, and in which Nadar's portrait photographs appeared as engravings (between 1861 and 1862), accompanied by biographical essays. Nadar's Panthéon is closely associated with these projects, yet largely independent of journalistic publishing, except, that is, for an elaborate advertising strategy for it in newspapers, reflecting an increasing commercialization of biography and a growing market for it.10 Despite the notable publicity, on its eventual publication in 1854, after many delays, the Panthéon was a huge financial failure, as is well known.

Nadar started work on the Panthéon in 1852, with a number of collaborators who helped to amass preliminary sketches for the initially planned four lithographs of a total of 1,200 caricatures of contemporary writers, poets, historians, journalists, editors, playwrights, artists, sculptors, actors, composers, and musicians. As in previous galeries, the figures included were selected based on their artistic and cultural achievements and fame, rather than their social rank or heritage, reflecting a modern 'democratization' of celebrity. Most of the initial sketches were carried out as pencil on paper works, as well as more elaborate charcoal drawings, some of which also date from the post-1854 period, however (Chotard, Nadar 71). To facilitate his work, in early 1853 Nadar circulated a letter to the contemporaries whom he wished to include in his depicted procession, asking for their collaboration: "je prends la liberté de vous prier, Monsieur, de m'éviter une des douze cents visites qu'elle [his "galerie"] nécessite pour moi, en voulant bien prendre la peine de passer le plus tôt possible à mon atelier […]."11 That either letters sent in return to his requests or the actual sittings in his studio were also used to acquire the needed biographical information is attested by the surviving letters and other testimonies. What exactly happened to the biographical portraits, [End Page 114] which were intended to be published in a separate booklet sold together with the lithograph, is far less certain.

The first plate of the Panthéon-Nadar, depicting predominantly writers and journalists, was published as a freestanding lithographic print. Although biographies of the 249 sitters were promised in the publicity surrounding the work, they were never delivered nor published, and only the index of names of the represented celebrities, flanking the print to the left and right, persist as a reminder of the initially more elaborate inter-medial, image-and-text nature of the lithograph. In 1854 a total of 541 copies of the relatively large plate (with the picture plane alone measuring 81.9 × 114.9 cm) were printed by the celebrated Parisian art press Lemercier. Given Nadar's "profound identification" with the form and technology of lithography (Bann 107), he would have taken pride in having his Panthéon printed by such a prestigious name with a reputation for embracing new developments in reproductive printmaking. Invented in Munich in the late eighteenth century, lithography revolutionized journalistic and artistic production and dissemination and quickly spread throughout Europe (and indeed the world). In France alone, it was quickly adopted by artists such as Eugène Delacroix and the famous caricaturist and contemporary of Nadar, Honoré Daumier. Its principal advantage over other reproductive print mechanisms, such as engraving, was a much quicker procedure: the image was created directly on the lithographic stone, ready for printing in large numbers. Dispensing with an engraver to transfer the original drawing onto the (wood or copper) printing plates made the new technique not only faster, but also cheaper. These factors went hand in hand with the image's content, as Bann has analyzed (87–89), since it allowed for the production of images of contemporary historical or political events nearly simultaneously with their actual occurrence.

The unprecedented contemporaneity of event and reproduction made possible by the lithographic printing process dovetails with Nadar's aim of depicting his famous cultural contemporaries. However, the Panthéon-Nadar was a hybrid work not only in terms of depicting and using multiple media, but also with respect to its genre and classification as a work. Although it was part of the rise of lithography as a new artistic medium in its own right, its use and function were far less certain. Neither an artwork in recognized definitions of the time, targeted at individuals rather than the museum wall, nor appealing to bibliophiles, given its lack of commentary or text, nor indeed linked to journalistic prints due to its poster size, Nadar's 1854 masterpiece was perhaps too hybrid for a successful commercial exploitation in Second Empire France. The unclassifiable nature of the Panthéon-Nadar led to its [End Page 115] financial failure, likely the main reason why preparation of the three further plates was abandoned.

George Sand in thePanthéon-Nadar

Although commercially unsuccessful, Nadar's lithograph received an overwhelmingly positive response from the critical press. George Sand, who obtained a print directly from Nadar, found it "très amusant,"12 a laconic comment given her prominent place in the picture. Sand's depiction in the Panthéon is indeed exceptional, as is her place in Nadar's career as portraitist more generally. (Nadar refrained from satirical portraits of her when he was a caricaturist and photographed her after he had already abandoned the daily running of his studio.13) During the intense preparation period of the Panthéon, certain writers were approached more directly and personally than through the aforementioned generic Lettre circulaire; and Sand was among the chosen few. Nadar's letter from October 5, 1853, speaks to his general admiration for a writer with whom he shared a political and social outlook (even after the political failures of 1848):

Madame, Vous avez bien voulu me promettre de répondre à ma demande de quelques indications pour votre notice biographique. Le formulaire que je puis vous adresser est bref: on peut y répondre en trois lignes comme en trois pages et en trois volumes. De vous, il est certain que je ne recevrai jamais trop.

Donc,—lieu et date de naissance.


—Détails sur l'enfance.

—Antécédents qui ont précédé la profession des lettres.

—Œuvres—dans leur ordre autant que possible.

—Goûts et habitudes.


Ainsi que j'avais l'honneur de vous le dire, Madame, trop de notes sur vous feront tout juste assez, et je dois me dépêcher d'ajouter que si peu que vous veuillez bien me donner, je ne vous en remercierai jamais assez.

Veuillez croire, Madame, à mon admiration fervente et à mon dévouement profond, Félix Tournachon-Nadar14

After writing again to Manceau, explaining how much an honor Sand's visit in his studio would be, Nadar finally receives a response in December, although it was evidently not the desired one. Manceau, the writer's portraitist, secretary, and latest amant, excuses her unavailability with ill health and is moreover very reluctant to provide the requested biographical information, referring to Sand's contractual obligations of not divulging details of her biography until the completion of her Histoire de ma vie (Sand 12:184). [End Page 116] Nonetheless, Manceau responds, albeit briefly, point by point to Nadar's list of details needed but shies away from providing anecdotes or a complete list of her works, which would be too onerous, as he writes (Sand 12:185).

Figure 1. Nadar, detail of Panthéon-Nadar (1854), lithograph. Courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
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Figure 1.

Nadar, detail of Panthéon-Nadar (1854), lithograph. Courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

The exceptional treatment of Sand in relation to the written portraits that were meant to accompany the image is directly echoed in her unique place within its visual landscape (Figure 1). In the long procession that zig-zags twice from left to right on the picture plane, the female writer is presented in the bottom left corner as the head and, implicitly, the final destination—the pantheon itself—of the living celebrities. Unlike her living male counterparts,15 Sand is represented in a classical marble bust on a vertically fluted plinth. One dark bust and two medallions are placed in front of the plinth with which it forms a triangular shape: the bust shows Honoré de Balzac who is joined by Chateaubriand and Frédéric Soulié, all writers who died between 1847 and 1850. Behind Sand are two further busts cast in shadow, representing Paul-Louis Courier and Charles Nodier (who died in 1825 and 1844, respectively). In this constellation, Sand is the only living author depicted in marble. Her right shoulder is slightly turned towards the viewer, but her face is in full profile and framed by her evenly parted hair tied together in the back to frame [End Page 117]

Figure 2. Alexandre Manceau, George Sand (1850), engraving after pencil and charcoal drawing by Thomas Couture. © Musée de la vie romantique/Roger-Viollet.
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Figure 2.

Alexandre Manceau, George Sand (1850), engraving after pencil and charcoal drawing by Thomas Couture. © Musée de la vie romantique/Roger-Viollet.

her face in an oval shape. Although the eyes are white and void, they are reminiscent of well-known depictions of Sand. Typically featuring expressive dark eyes—a stock feature of nineteenth-century depictions of prominent women (Garval 117)—earlier portraits include the famous small oil painting by Delacroix (1834) and its engraved rendition by Luigi Calamatta dating from 1836, as well as the 1838 painting by Auguste Charpentier.

Working from existing images, as is well known, Nadar would have known these portraits of Sand; the one that undoubtedly served him as a direct template for his represented marble bust is, however, Alexandre Manceau's engraving dating from 1850 (Figure 2). It is based on a fine pencil and charcoal drawing on paper by Thomas Couture, in which all attention is focused on the sitter's face and expressive dark eyes, directed to the right side of the picture frame. Manceau prepared the engraving for the Salon of 1850, but it may also have been considered as a frontispiece portrait in Hetzel's publication of her complete works, just like Manceau's drawing based on the 1850 work that Sand refers to in her 1852 letter to her editor (quoted at the beginning of this article). A small reproduction of the Manceau engraving can be found in George Sand's personal carte-de-visite family album, where it is placed next to a reproduction of her portrait by Delacroix and right before her [End Page 118] photographs by Nadar.16 In 1853, and after Nadar's insistence, she would have approved Manceau's sending the portrait to the author of the Panthéon, as Manceau's above-quoted response letter contained a copy of the engraving, according to Claude Malécot (13). The marble bust of Sand in the Panthéon is clearly modelled on the engraved drawing; indeed, it corresponds so closely to the predecessor that one is led to believe it was directly copied onto the lithographic stone for printing. The shadows in the sitter's face and the direction of the gaze are reversed in the Panthéon—the light in Manceau's engraving comes from the left and Sand gazes to the right, while the right-hand side of the sitter's face is lit up in Nadar's bust and her look is cast to the left—a reversal that further supports this hypothesis.

Even in the absence of further evidence as to the exact method of transfer from engraving to lithograph, it is clear that George Sand's representation in the Panthéon is the result of a number of trans-medial shifts—from drawing to engraving to (represented) sculpture—embedded within the complex intermedial lithographic artwork, which combines text (the names of the sitters and, by extension, their biographies) with drawing, caricature, engraving, sculpture, and photography.17 Each of these media, their materiality, and their physical, implied or imagistic (co-)presence in the Panthéon conjure up specific meanings and together form a multi-media picture of the status and perception of the author figure in Second Empire France. As a whole, the Panthéon-Nadar was conceived as a chronicle of the new social and cultural position of the writer, which it simultaneously represents, establishes, and confirms. More specifically, following the serpentine procession towards the marble bust of Sand, the lithograph has been described by Michael Garval as centered on "the writer's transformation into a monument" (18), but, in his view, it "falters in its hommage to Sand" by doing so "prematurely" (141), showing her as a "figure of abortive promise" (144). However, I would argue that all the different media represented and actually used, especially in the depiction of Sand as related to the rest of Nadar's illustrious cortège, imply a more complex fabric of actuality and posterity, mortality and immortality, as well as transience and permanence.

Manceau's 1850 engraving, whose presence is strongly felt in Nadar's rendering, remains closely connected to the published literary œuvre of the portrayed writer, given the dominant tradition of an engraved frontispiece portrait of authors in their book publications. This strong link between written work and visual author portrait is also, of course, the wider context for the Panthéon-Nadar, where this complementary relation was initially planned to be even stronger through the inclusion of the sitters' biographies and a list of [End Page 119] their works, as we have seen. In the completed lithographic plate, George Sand's name is at the beginning of the name index, on the top left-hand side, from which the reader's/viewer's eye moves down the list of names on the left and then on the right of the picture plane and also from top left to right, twice across the image, and right to left to meet her face in the marble bust.

Even if her bust portrait may not reflect the most prestigious form of visual monument in France and elsewhere at the time, that is, the full-length marble statue,18 Sand's bust is nonetheless represented in the most noble of materials, marble. Its durability and cultural associations are linked to notions of greatness, reverence, and immortality and, within the context of the Panthéon, it contrasts with the much less durable material of Nadar's wooden signpost, with its direct address of the viewer and posterity, as well as the plaster busts of her female contemporaries. As has been pointed out by Alexandra Wettlaufer, Sand was "quite alive" in 1854, with her bust being "a sign of privilege" within the context of her (mostly) caricatured contemporaries (89). Traditionally the privilege of dead figures of political and, later, cultural importance, the sculpture represents an oscillation not only between mortality and immortality, but also between singularity and reproducibility. Apart from its reproduction in bronze replicas, the marble bust was a unique object, which here contrasts with the reproduction technique of the lithographic print. Sand's bust is set in the context of durability—in comparison with her 'flesh-and-blood' contemporaries—yet also, simultaneously, it is represented in a lithograph, associated with actuality, the hic et nunc, and, by extension, impermanence, as we have seen. The intermedial layers of Sand's depiction in the Panthéon-Nadar thus reveal an altogether less certain, more ambiguous, and fragile image of celebrity, where cultural figures are not simply equal to 'immortal' kings (based on heredity and social rank), but are part of the process of redefining the very notion of celebrity in a radically modern sense, as the characteristic of both singular and endlessly reproducible public figures. Beyond any personal and political admiration that Nadar had for Sand, the fact that a living female author is represented in the ways discussed, at a time when iconographic traditions of depicting literary fame were dominated by male authorship, is a further indicator of Nadar's manifold probing into the new modes of visual and textual reverence, which, albeit equivocal, also extended into his photographic activities.

Nadar's photographic portraits of George Sand

As mentioned, 1852 was a pivotal year in terms of Sand's investment in portraiture, prompted by the preparation of her complete-works edition. It is not [End Page 120] fortuitous that the same year also marks her first visit to a photography studio. In October, the famous author sits for the photographer Pierre-Ambroise Richebourg in Paris, a session that resulted in daguerreotypes depicting her in three different poses. At a time when the first wave of "daguerréotypomanie" in the 1840s had already passed, Richebourg also delivered his unique daguerreotypes as reproductions on paper. Given the close relationship between the two photographers (see Malécot 44–45), it is likely that Nadar obtained a copy of a paper photograph in the early 1860s. Although the photographer, by then famous, had resisted the enormously popular trend of carte-de-visite reproductions of his photographs of his equally famous sitters since taking up photography in 1854 (the same year as the invention of the carte-de-visite process by Disdéri), encouraged by Philipon (see Chotard, Nadar 101) Nadar began to commercialize his photographic collection of cultural celebrities by 1861. In this respect, and given Nadar's astute—and sometimes ruthless—business mind, he offered not only his own photographs for sale, but also those taken by other photographers, without asking for permission or acknowledging the original author, but instead by adding his signature-style red framing and capital 'N' onto the front of the card.

Nadar's appropriation of other photographers' work included the Richebourg portrait of George Sand (Figure 3), which Nadar offered for sale from 1861.19 Even if Sand's face and hairstyle are reminiscent of Manceau's engraving and Nadar's marble bust, the sitter's expression in the daguerreotype is far from flattering. Now rendered by the unforgiving technique of photography, rather than the (potentially) idealizing ones used for her previous portraits—possibly reflecting apprehension at her first encounter with the new medium and its process—Sand appears recoiled in shyness, head tilted downwards, with an uncertain gaze, and in a slightly slumped pose. The downward camera angle increases the overall impression of a lack of gravitas and presence expected of an author portrait and also typical of Nadar's later photographs (of Sand and many others), taken from a slight upwards angle. In comparison with other images of herself, it is perhaps not surprising that the sitter did not like the photographs by Richebourg. In fact, she detested these portraits, disavowed them,20 and ordered them to be destroyed.

And yet, although the original daguerreotypes have been lost (possibly destroyed, as she wished), reproductions on photographic paper not only survive to the present day but were also widely disseminated in the mid-nineteenth century. With the carte-de-visite reproduction by his studio, Nadar was at the forefront of the commercialization of Sand's 1852 photographs, capitalizing on the recent resurfacing of the profile view engraved "d'après une photographie [End Page 121]

Figure 3. Pierre-Ambroise Richebourg, George Sand (1852), paper print from daguerreotype, reproduced in carte-de-visite format by the Nadar studio (circa 1861). Courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
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Figure 3.

Pierre-Ambroise Richebourg, George Sand (1852), paper print from daguerreotype, reproduced in carte-de-visite format by the Nadar studio (circa 1861). Courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

de M. Richebourg" by Bocourt for Le monde illustré (June 29, 1861).21 But it would not take long before the sitter herself got wind of yet another unauthorized circulation of her portrait. On September 18, 1863, Sand writes to Nadar in a letter full of reproach, but also flattery: "Cher Monsieur, vous vendez une photographie de moi qui fait jeter les hauts cris à tout le monde et que je désavoue tant que je peux. Si elle n'était pas vendue chez vous, j'aurais cent fois protesté." And she asks in a rhetorical fashion that speaks to her attempt to gain (some) control of her public 'image': "Mais le véritable remède ne serait-il pas d'en faire une meilleure?" (Sand 18:68–69). Although the session with Nadar did not take place until about six months later—Nadar's interests had taken another turn towards ballooning and he was no longer a daily presence in his studio—of all the portraits of George Sand, Nadar's photographs from this first session in March 1864 remain undoubtedly the most oft-reproduced ones.

A total of five photography sessions took place in the Nadar studio, in 1864, 1869, and 1874 (this last one took place in the absence of Nadar père). The first three occur in March 1864, when Sand posed in three different dresses in a variety of poses, both seated and standing. I shall analyze only one portrait in detail, the one that ranks among the most iconic of Sand (Figure 4). The [End Page 122]

Figure 4. Nadar, George Sand (1864), paper print from glass negative. Courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
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Figure 4.

Nadar, George Sand (1864), paper print from glass negative. Courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

image is typical of Nadar's style in the sense that it is a bust portrait taken against a neutral background, just like his earlier portraits from the mid-1850s including figures such as Alfred de Vigny, Alexandre Dumas, and Charles Baudelaire. The camera angle in Sand's portrait is Nadar's characteristic upward facing view, as a result of which the sitter appears elevated. Sand's pose is upright, with her right shoulder slightly turned towards the viewer; her head is directed to the left and her gaze rests on something outside of the picture frame. The aging writer's hair is arranged in carefully crafted waves, which leaves her pendent earrings visible. Her striped, bright-colored tunic dress is seamed with a black collar upon which a laced scarf is layered. Her right arm rests on a chair with a decorative fringe that was also the prop in many other portraits by Nadar, including Sand's companion Manceau (who accompanied Sand on March 4, 1864, when he also posed for his own portrait).

The most remarkable aspect of the composition, however, is Nadar's use of Sand's dress. No stranger to using clothing for compositional or dramatic effect—as he did, for example, in Théophile Gautier's 1855–1856 portrait, which shows the writer standing statuesque, wrapped in a thick coat—Sand's dress as framed by Nadar creates a pyramidal shape that lends the photograph and the sitter a monumental presence. Indeed, it was none other than Gautier [End Page 123] who wrote on the advantageous "pyramidal construction" produced by dresses in women's portraits, an idea that Nadar the art critic would have known about.22 Unlike the two other portrait series taken by Nadar during the March 1864 sessions, which depict Sand in two dresses that are both tightly tucked around her waist, making her appearance more feminine, but also more conventional, in this specific photograph (as well as others with the same dress), Sand's figure covers the entire bottom half of the composition and peaks, quite literally, in the sharp point on her forehead created by her symmetrically parted hair.

All in all, the photograph of Sand is a sculpture-like, monumental rendition of the author, a "portrait of the artist as a pyramid of sorts" (Wettlaufer 93). Far removed from the almost subservient demeanor in the 1852 daguerreotypes, Sand is portrayed here as a towering grand écrivain, exuding both calmness and control, including over her own image. It is not difficult to see why this particular portrait by Nadar became one of the most oft-reproduced and disseminated Sand portraits in both more reverential and satirical contexts (see Garval 132–38), an outcome aided in no small measure by the writer's employing her own dissemination and exchange strategies to increase the circulation of the portrait, as well as by the photographer's reproducing it in turn in numerous carte-de-visite photographs. Indirectly, perhaps, the key compositional feature of the photograph also found its way into stone in the form of the full-body marble sculpture of George Sand—a pyramidal composition—by François Sicard, erected in the Jardin du Luxembourg during the centenary year of her birth in 1904.

Portraitomania between commerce and monument

Such actual and figurative sculptural representation and monumentalization brings us back not only to George Sand's portrayal in the Panthéon-Nadar, but also to a final photograph of the writer in marble. The Nadar archive in the Bibliothèque nationale de France holds a photographic reproduction of a full-body marble sculpture of George Sand in Roman attire (Figure 5). The sculpture in question is by Auguste Clésinger (Sand's son-in-law), and it was placed in the foyer of the Comédie française in 1877, two years after her death and to pay tribute to her dramatic œuvre. Although this allegorical sculpture has lost all individuality of the sitter, Nadar's photograph reinscribes Sand into his multiple (and multi-media) renderings of the great author, associated with his lithographic, photographic, and biographical work. Throughout his illustrious career as a portraitist, Nadar's multiple renderings of Sand in traditional and newly emerging media fluctuate between art and commerce, monument [End Page 124]

Figure 5. Auguste Clésinger, George Sand (1877), marble statue photographed by Nadar. Courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
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Figure 5.

Auguste Clésinger, George Sand (1877), marble statue photographed by Nadar. Courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

and marketization, singularity and reproducibility. As we have seen, these opposites were already embodied in Sand's representation in the lithographic print of the Panthéon-Nadar, which speaks to the fact that nineteenth-century portraitomania cut across such traditional binaries, and arguably thrived precisely because of trans- and inter-medial relations (even if the Panthéon also showed the limits of commercial exploitability of the phenomenon). The public's fascination with author portraits and other cultural celebrity, along with portraitists' production of such images are, however, not only part of a material culture. In the specific case of the author portrait, visual renditions that circulated in trans- and inter-medial fashions also had an immaterial and perhaps imaginary aspect: the 'image' of the writer is a composite of his/her works, real and imagined portraits (including those depicted, overtly or covertly, by the writers themselves), both in conjunction with their works and—at least materially—independent of them, as freely circulating faces of cultural and artistic celebrity.23 [End Page 125]

Kathrin Yacavone
University of Nottingham


1. George Sand, Correspondance, Georges Lubin, ed., 26 vols. (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2013), 11:103–4.

2. In this respect, my article is inspired by Stephen Bann's exceptional work on the influence of lithography on Nadar's œuvre, from art criticism and caricature to photography; see Distinguished Images: Prints in the Visual Economy of Nineteenth-Century France (New Haven: Yale U P, 2013), and especially the chapter "Nadar in Retrospect," 87–120.

3. See Loïc Chotard, Approches du XIXe siècle (Paris: Presses de l'Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 2000), 131.

4. Characteristically, biographies of Nadar put emphasis on his career as a photographer. Stéphanie de Saint Marc's biography is illustrated exclusively with photographs (Nadar [Paris: Gallimard, 2010]); and the more recent one by Adam Begley is tellingly titled The Great Nadar: The Man Behind the Camera (New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017).

5. Loïc Chotard, Nadar: Caricatures et photographies, exhibition catalogue (Paris: Maison de Balzac, 1990), 37.

6. See Érika Wicky, "Nadar rédacteur en chef et critique d'art: Genèse d'un grand nom," in Laurence Brogniez, Clément Dessy, and Clara Sadoun-Édouard, eds., L'artiste en revue (Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, forthcoming 2019).

7. Loïc Chotard's doctoral dissertation, La biographie contemporaine en France au dix-neuvième siècle: Autour du Panthéon-Nadar (PhD thesis, Paris: Paris IV–Sorbonne, 1987) is a noteworthy exception here.

8. See Ann Jefferson, Biography and the Question of Literature in France (Oxford: Oxford U P, 2007), 83–134.

9. Hélène Dufour has analyzed the literary phenomena associated with the portrait, in Portraits en phrases: Les recueils de portraits littéraires au XIXe siècle (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1997).

10. See Adeline Wrona's discussion of the Panthéon-Nadar in the context of a wider commercialization of the portrait, "Des Panthéons à vendre: Le portrait d'homme de lettres, entre réclame et biographie," Romantisme, 155 (2012): 37–50.

11. Nadar, "Lettre circulaire pour les séances de pose du Panthéon," quoted in Chotard, Nadar, 135.

12. Manceau noted this in the diary he kept together with George Sand, quoted in Claude Malécot, George Sand / Félix Nadar (Paris: Éditions du patrimoine, 2004), 13.

13. Nadar only published caricatures of George Sand's works, but apparently refused "to embody the female author who remains offstage," as Alexandra K. Wettlaufer has argued, "Sand and Nadar: Portraiture, Performance, and the Art of Photography," George Sand Studies, 31 (2012): 87.

14. Nadar letter addressed to George Sand, Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris (BHVP), Sand-G-4785. I am citing the letter in its entirety, which has, to my knowledge, been published only in extracts, in Malécot, George Sand, 12; Chotard, Nadar, 67; and Sand, Correspondance, 12:184.

15. Apart from a few women writers' plaster busts (including Marceline Desbordes-Valmore) that are being carried on Ernest Legouvé's head, all figures are male. For a more detailed discussion, see Michael D. Garval, "A Dream of Stone": Fame, Vision, and Monumentality in Nineteenth-Century French Literary Culture (Newark: U Delaware P, 2004), 142.

16. BHVP, Album Sand (without shelfmark).

17. Although some of the figures in the Panthéon are clearly based on photographs, including the cases of Balzac and Hugo, who both can be seen in Figure 1, Nadar did not systematically use photography in preparing his lithograph, nor was the large number of caricatures the reason why he took up photography, as he himself suggests, in Quand j'étais photographe (Paris: L'École des Lettres/Seuil, 1994), 291–92.

18. See Garval, "A Dream of Stone," 16. However, as Garval analyzes in his brilliant study on literary fame and monument in nineteenth-century France, "statuomanie" reached its climax at the end of the century. Interestingly, in photography, the case is the reverse: bust portraits were clearly associated with a more official and prestigious function, while full-length photographs quickly became the stock pose for cheap carte-de-visite portraits. See Anne McCauley, Likenesses: Portrait Photography in Europe 1850–1870, exhibition catalogue (Albuquerque: Art Museum/University of New Mexico, 1980), 3.

19. The Musée d'Orsay holds such a mounted copy of Nadar's reproduction. The image in Figure 3 is from the collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

20. The extent to which Sand disapproved of her first series of photographs from 1852 is reflected in the astonishing fact that she identified her first "portrait photographique" as an 1861 drawing by Charles Marchal, photographed (rather than engraved) by Bingham in 1862. She declares all other photographs of her as "apocryphe[s]" (Malécot, George Sand, 46–47, and Sand, Correspondance, 17:181–82).

21. For a reproduction of the entire newspaper page, see Malécot, George Sand, 41.

22. Philippe Néagu, "Nadar and the Artistic Life of His Time," in Maria Morris Hambourg, Françoise Heilbrun, and Philippe Néagu, eds., Nadar, exhibition catalogue (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995), 71.

23. This article is part of a larger monograph project titled Portrait of the Writer: Photography and Literary Culture in France. I wish to thank the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust for the award of a Small Research Grant, which has supported archival research in Paris, as well as the Society for French Studies Prize Research Fellowship, which funded a research leave in 2017–18. Thanks also to Michael Garval and Richard Wrigley for comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this article.

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