May 28, 1984 12:00 PM

He took his first picture when he was 7 years old. Today, at 89, Jacques-Henri Lartigue is still photographing but is best known for the radiant snapshots he made of France before World War I. This enchanting exhibit of 125 pictures from the master photographer’s family albums is currently touring the U.S. and will be at the Arts Center of Williamsburg (Va.) through June 15. “Photography is a magic thing,” Lartigue once wrote. That point of view pervades his entire work. Simone Roussel on the Beach at Villerville (1904) has as much charm as any Impressionist painting. (Lartigue snapped the grinning Simone, his cousin, in the split second of anticipatory joy before she tossed a stick for her waiting dog.) Pillow Fight Above the Pool (1907), another intimate family shot, is as beautiful as a frame from Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander. And in 40 rue Cortambert (1905), Lartigue’s cousin Bichonnade sails like a ship’s figurehead down the steps of the family home. Lartigue also chronicled auto races and pioneering air feats by daredevil aces. But the most memorable images are of women, some taken when Lartigue was still a schoolboy. Many afternoons he waited with his camera in the Bois de Boulogne while mysterious veiled beauties, swathed in furs, walked their tiny dogs up and down the avenue. Lartigue’s most openly sensual portraits, though, are of Renée Perle, who was briefly his lover. In one portrait she poses vamplike on a sofa, her left arm encircled with thin shiny bracelets up to her elbow. There is, indeed, a dark magic to the photograph. Bonjour Monsieur Lartigue, sponsored by the International Exhibits Foundation, opens July 1 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. The show is scheduled to make later stops in Rockford, Ill., Claremont, Calif., Providence, R.I., Palm Beach, Fla., Oklahoma City and Madison, Wis.

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