Jacques-Henri Lartigue was born into a prosperous French family on June 13th, 1894. Lartigue was given a large-plate camera at age seven that he operated by standing on a stool. He received a Brownie No. 2, a handheld camera, as a gift the following year. Lartigue's boyhood photographs were almost always candid images taken of his family and friends. His upper-middle-class upbringing exposed him to varied and interesting scenes for his pictures.
Lartigue studied painting at the Académie Julian in Paris from 1915 to 1916, and would always consider himself a painter first and foremost. It was nevertheless as a photographer that he would establish his reputation. In the 1910s and '20s Lartigue enthusiastically photographed such subjects as automobile races, fashionable ladies at the seashore and the park, and kite flying. These photographs, with their informal approach to everyday subjects, reveal his free spirit and joie de vivre, capturing a sense of movement, rather than a concern for photographic technique and craft. He generally worked in black and white but experimented with the recently developed Autochrome color process, which satisfied his painterly interests. In the 1930s and '40s he continued to capture images of middle-class leisure that, like his earlier images, display a charm and joy that is detached from the traumas of the war. He continued to photograph into his '90s, and he extended his settings to include England and the United States during this later period.
Lartigue's oeuvre was rediscovered by art historians in the early 1960s and shown at a Museum of Modern Art exhibit in New York City in 1963. His photographs were acclaimed in part because of their ingeneous charm and departure from the formal, posed portraits that had been typical of early photography.
Lartigue was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1975. A collection of his work, Diary of a Century, was published in 1970 (reprinted 1978). Later collections of Lartigue's work include Les Femmes aux Cigarettes (1980; Women Holding Cigarettes) and Les Autochromes de J.H. Lartigue, 1912-1927 (1980; The Autochromes of J.H. Lartigue, 1912-1927).
A retrospective of Lartigue’s photography was held in Paris’ decorative arts museum, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, in 1975—the year after the French president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, asked him to take his official portrait. In 1979, Lartigue signed an act donating his entire photographic output to the French government, the first living French photographer to do so. Lartigue continued taking photographs, painting and writing until his death in Nice on September 12, 1986, at the age of 92, and left behind more than 100,000 photographs, 7,000 diary pages and 1,500 paintings.