Gaspard-Félix Tournachon is a photographer, illustrator, author, and former aeronaut. This universal genius worked in the industry and, in order to support his painter friends, organised the first exhibition of impressionist paintings in his art gallery in 1874, an art form that was still young at that time, with paintings by Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Paul Cézanne.
Sometime before that, Nadar, which is how he called himself back then, had already opened an art gallery for photographic portraits in Paris. In contrast with photographers taking orders, he dispensed with accessories, painted backgrounds, and retouching, and focused on faces and hands. His clients included authors such as Charles Beaudelaire and Honoré de Balzac, artists such as Gioachino Rossini, and the probably best known actress of her time, Sarah Bernhardt.
On 18 October 1863, Nadar took to the air from the Mars Field in Paris to start his most famous journey. With eight passengers in an aerostat, which was the product of his own bragging fantasy: “I am going to build a balloon, the ultimate balloon that is absolutely gigantic; twenty times larger than the largest.” He called it Le Géant, the Giant.
After having drifted 17 hours in a storm toward the East, the balloon crashed along a railroad line near Hanover. With his Le Géant, this professional balloonist had started a commercial aerospace company. The first ascent of this vehicle, for which each of the 13 passengers paid 1,000 Francs, had attracted 200,000 spectators. The gondola looked like a two-story hut made from basketwork and included a refreshment room, beds, a toilet, a photography section, and even a print shop, so that souvenirs could be printed right on-board.
He founded the company “Société d’encouragement de la navigation aérienne au moyen du plus lourd que l’air” in 1863 as well, with himself as the President and the young Jules Verne as the Secretary. A blimp, which he would design later, inspired Jules Verne to write his book “Five weeks in a balloon”.
Why is this topic to interesting to us? Well, among other things, because we are part of this fascinating story. In September 2015, two balloonists, Kurt Frieden and Pascal Witprächtiger from Eastern Switzerland, won the 59th Coupe Aeronautique Gordon Bennet, the championship of gas balloonists, with their gas balloon NN-Technics. After 68 hours and 20 minutes in the air, they landed safely on a Monday evening 2,530 km east of their starting point in the border triangle between Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus. It feels good; a great adventure and the stuff the best stories are made from.
For all of you who want to find out more, we would like to recommend the following links: