The first UK exhibition of work by the French filmmaker and photographer.
Son of mathematician and twice prime-minister of France, Paul Painlevé, Jean was an inattentive student who would often skip classes to go to the Jardin d'Acclimatation where he would assist the guard in taking care of the animals.
Initially he hoped to gain a place at the École Polytechnique, but had to abandon his preparatory studies because he understood almost nothing of mathematics. He turned instead to medicine, but disagreeing with his professor's treatment of a hydroencephalic patient which he found to be cruel, he left classes and never went back.
Moving into biology at the Laboratoire d'Anatomie et d'Histologie Comparée at the Sorbonne, he struck up friendships with Viviane, Maryvonne and Geneviève (Ginette) Hamon, the latter of whom became his work partner and life companion.
Her father Augustin Hamon encouraged young inquisitive scientists with radical ideas to come and visit him at his home in Britanny. It was here Painlevé was introduced to the likes of Alexander Calder, Pierre Prévert and Jacques-Alain Boiffard, as well as other key figures of the Surrealist movement.
Painlevé began making films in 1927, themed around underwater fauna. Featuring octopi, lobsters, seahorse, vampire bats, skeleton shrimps, fan worms and starfish, Painlevé became the champion for the use of science in cinema. During the course of his career he created more than 200 shorts in this style.