Visual Arts: A peach on the beach

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The Independent Culture
THE WOMAN reclining on the beach is bronzed and enviably relaxed. "Renee is beautiful; she is tender; she is everything I desire. I live in a dream," wrote Jacques Henri Lartigue. His affair with Renee Perle may have lasted only two years, but during that time the French photographer produced some of his most evocative works.

In another photograph, the Romanian beauty stands, hands on hips, sporting a stylish, plunging neckline, perfect lippy and long, painted nails - her dark arms thrown into relief against her white dress and the pale background. "Tall, slim, a long neck, a shining lock of hair caressing her mouth. I see the reflection of Renee's beauty in women's eyes and men's glances. Beside her, other women look like farm girls." Not only did Lartigue keep a photo album from a very early age he also kept a detailed journal of his daily life and thoughts.

Lartigue, who once said "you must find something in each day to delight you", clearly had a great love of life. He was fortunate enough not to have to work for a living, and his pictures successfully capture the idyllic, beach-filled days of the leisure classes, particularly during the inter- war years in France.

In Friborg, Cannes, May 1929, he photographs athlete Friborg exercising at the water's edge, arms outstretched, back arched above the sea as if diving into the sky. Exuberance and energy leap out at you.

Lartigue would sometimes dance all night and then head to the beach in the early hours of the morning to exercise. "Each morning my bare feet rediscover the icy caress of the sand," he wrote.

In Me (J.H.Lartigue), Rouzat, September 1920, he photographs himself on the tennis court, a low angle heightening the sense of flight and activity, as he is caught mid-air, his body held with balletic grace.

Lartigue, born in 1894, was given his first camera at the age of seven, but it was not until his one-man show at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1963 that his photography earned him serious acclaim.

His use of natural light and high contrast creates seductive images that draw you into the composition. And in the endless photographs of lazy summer days their spontaneity and lack of artifice transport the viewer back to a world of exquisite elegance and romance.

Lartigue photographed many beautiful women, but the one who left her mark was Renee. "Her charm disturbs me. I am afraid it always will," he wrote.

Until 31 January, Michael Hoppen Photography, 3 Jubilee Place, London SW3 (0171-352 3649)