The World of Nadar … at your fingertips

Research collections are not usually my favorite collections to process … I recognize their usefulness; but I miss the personal components that allow me to get to know the creator and the worlds in which they lived.  The Thomas Waldman research collection on Nadar, however, is amazing … it is a French intellectual history class or a photography class project just waiting to happen.  I am so in love with this collection that I am preemptively jealous of anyone who gets to work with it.

Thomas G. Waldman (1938-2018) was a scholar of the history of Medieval France and an associate professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania. During the 1970s, he worked in Penn’s library with special collections, and he became interested (or possibly even obsessed) with Felix Nadar’s autograph album which was somehow acquired by Thomas Evans, dentist to the elite of France and namesake of the Thomas W. Evans Museum and Dental Institute School of Dentistry University of Pennsylvania.  There are no words to describe how absolutely awesome this autograph album is, but I will give it a go:

IMG_2946Felix Nadar (1820-1910) was an early French photographer who took photographs of all sorts of amazing people–and when those people sat for their portraits (from 1853 to 1875), Nadar asked them to add their “signature” to his autograph album. The resulting album contains autographs of more than 400 prominent individuals who signed their names and often added a sketch, poem, bar of music, etc. It is essentially a “who’s who” of the literary, theater, music, and political world in France from the 1850s to 1870s. IMG_2949

Waldman conceived of a project where he would unite the photographs, the autographs, and biographical information about the subjects, to be presented in the form of a book entitled “Nadar and His World.” The book did not happen, but prints of the photographs were acquired and enormous amounts of research and preliminary biographical sketches were completed.

Today, this begs for an online project (and may I say, fellow archivists and nerds, an EAC-CPF [Encoded Archival Context for Corporate Bodies, Persons, and Families] project to die for). Waldman did much of the work, sans internet research (imagine what a little google searching might yield); therefore, this project really only needs a thoughtful and hardworking researcher or a class of researchers who could pull together research and present it in a creative and visually amazing manner. Waldman’s meticulous work resulted in a full linear foot of notes and linkages. Lists started as hand-written; and as information was verified, the lists were typewritten. All contained the all-important links to the page in the autograph album.

To whet your appetites, see the following, just one of many examples of the unification of photograph, autograph, and biographical info. This group of images pulls together the material for Pierre Ciceri (1782-1868), an artist who revolutionized set design for operas, ballets, and theater. A note by Waldman states that Ciceri was “also famous for his watercolors.”

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One response to “The World of Nadar … at your fingertips”

  1. Great article! You refer to the Penn dentist Thomas Evans – what an interesting character he was as well! In 2015, Penn had a fantastic exhibit of Evans’s art collection which also included the carriage with which he helped the Empress Eugenie to escape during the Franco-Prussian War. I wish that it had been a permanent exhibit: it offered fascinating glimpses into French high culture during an age of intense nationalist and imperialist ambition: See the review of that exhibit which appeared in the New York Times at:

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