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Self-Portrait as an Aeronaut
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Nadar
French, about 1863
Albumen print
3 1/8 x 2 3/16 in.
84.XM.436.394

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Despite its small scale, Nadar meant this carte-de-visite self-portrait to promote his extremely costly ballooning ventures. He hoped that circulation of these images of him seemingly rising into the sky in the gondola of a balloon might attract more paying spectators to the balloon ascensions he staged. Since cartes-de-visite sold for low prices, their sale alone would not have produced enough income to defray aeronautical expenses. Instead, they were likely given away as publicity, although Nadar used the back of this one to write a note urging his assistants to make a certain Madame Grandet at home in the studio.

These photographs were a mixture of self-aggrandizement and profit-seeking and, at least to a modern eye, also humorous for their incongruities. The woven basket in which Nadar posed was probably a laundry hamper suspended on ropes in the studio--too small to carry a man comfortably for any distance, particularly kneeling, as the five-foot-ten Nadar must be doing. To give a modest illusion that he was flying, he posed his pretend balloon against a painted backdrop of clouds. He may have chosen dandyish clothes in order to imply that ballooning was a safe, even gentlemanly enterprise, in which money could be judiciously invested. His binoculars advertise the view to be had from on high, and the anchor adds a note of authenticity.