Posts Tagged ‘French nude photography


Exhibition: ‘The Naked Truth and More Besides: Nude Photography around 1900’ at the Museum for Photography, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 3rd May – 25th August 2013


Many thankx to the Museum for Photography for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.




Léon Gimpel. 'The Sculptor' 1911


Léon Gimpel (French, 1873-1948)
The Sculptor
© Société française de photographie, Paris


Photographer unknown. 'Act of Headstand' Before 1905


Photographer unknown
Act of Headstand
Before 1905
Silver gelatin print
© Universität der Künste Berlin, Universitätsarchiv


Photographer unknown. 'The 250-pound ranks of the 1st Caulking men's club, Munich' 1907


Photographer unknown
The 250-pound ranks of the 1st Caulking men’s club, Munich
From: Athletics Sports Illustrated Newspaper, 01/19/1907
© Niedersächsisches Institut für Sport-geschichte, Hannover


Otto Skowranek. 'Olga Desmond - Sword Dance' 1908


Otto Skowranek (German)
Olga Desmond – Sword Dance
Gelatin silver print
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunst-bibliothek


Frank Eugene Smith. 'Adam and Eve' 1898/99


Frank Eugene (American, 1865-1936)
Adam and Eve
Published in Camera Work, 1910
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunst-bibliothek



At the dawn of the last century, photographs of nudes could be found everywhere. The exhibition The Naked Truth and More Besides presents the astonishing diversity of photographic depictions of the disrobed human body that existed around this time. It was an age in which the foundations were laid for the development in the public domain of an extremely varied type of image, which, more than any other continues to inform the world in which we live today.

Most striking of all, the photographic nude appeared as a reproducible medium – on postcards, cigarette cards, posters, in magazines and in advertising, as inspiration for artists and an incentive for sportsmen, as instructional material, and as collector’s items. From the vast array of material, it is possible to identify several distinct groups that fall under such headings as: the mass produced, visual pleasures (arcadias, eroticism, and pornography), the body in the eye of science (ethnography, motion study photography, medicine), the cult of the body (reform movements – especially in German-speaking countries – naturism, and staged nudes from the world of sport and variety shows), and, of course, the nude in the artistic context (art academies and the Pictorialist tradition of fine-art prints). The most important characteristic of the image of naked people during this time is the inseparability of nude photographic production and reproduction. The trade or exchange in nude photographs was widespread across the whole of Europe. This is reflected in the exhibition, which not only features many treasures and rare finds from the Kunstbibliothek’s own Collection of Photography, but also includes important loans from several European institutions, ranging from the Bibliothèque nationale de France to the Police Museum of Lower Saxony.


The exhibition

A Commodity Market – The Machinery of the Nude

Since the invention of photography, the unclothed human body has been positioned – sitting, standing and reclining – in front of the camera. Large numbers of nude images, avidly pursued by censors, were in circulation as of the middle of the 19th century. By around 1900 nude photography had broken into the public sphere. Starting in 1880, photographs had become easier to produce and reproduce. They began to flood the market in various printed forms: alongside stereoviews, cartes de visite and single prints, nudes could now be found on postcards, trading cards, autograph cards, posters and in magazines, books and films. Nude photographs were promoted, ordered, sold and sent. They were published for a large audience under the guise of artistic or academic activity, and people’s viewing habits, their gaze on the naked body – their own or someone else’s – began to change. In this process it became clear that photography played a significant role in the marketing of the naked body, but also in people’s self-understanding. Today’s arbitrary use of scantily-clad models to advertise goods is but one phenomenon that continues what was emerging with the visual material of the turn of the 20th century.


“For Artistic Purposes Only” – Model Studies and Photographic Academies

Nude pictures were reaching the public as “photographs after nature.” In the process, the artistic content or the intended use of the photographs was always emphasised. If we were to judge by the quantity of materials said to be produced solely for artists, then the largest professional group around 1900 would have been composed of them. “For artistic purposes only” was the password to uncensored production of nude photography. For many artists, photographic depictions actually did replace calling in live models. Art academies created a reference collection with nude studies. In many cases, works of painting or sculpture can be directly traced back to a particular photograph. Taken in classrooms that tended toward sobriety, most of the poses were borrowed from the art-historical cannon. Countless Venus and Apollo figures, cherubs, Atlases, Horatii, Graces and boys in the classical style populate the portfolios of the period. A practice of child nudes developed in the slipstream of the photographic academies. Ostensibly, these were created to show the angelic innocence of children of all ages. Photographers also documented classes in studios and at academies. Thus we see photographs of entire student groups with their nude model, and there are also fine examples of the triad of artist, model and work.


(Visual) Yearnings – Ideals from Arcadia

The unclothed body was first and foremost an object of erotic associations, and they were rendered by photography in more or less subtle ways. While a large audience enjoyed the Arcadian idylls of Sicily without coming into a conflict with the law, there was likely an even larger public buying the goods “under the table” or only “per order,” potentially becoming guilty of immorality. Under Wilhelm II, male friendships were cherished as pillars of the system. Homosexuality, by contrast, was the subject of heated debate, its reception mixed. With this in mind, the vast array of potentially homoerotic photographs that were produced is revealing.

Wilhelm von Gloeden counts among the best-known practitioners of a kind of nude photography that gave voice to longings for an idyll that was generally Mediterranean or classical in nature. His photographs enjoyed tremendous commercial success around 1900. Numerous fellow photographers, most of them anonymous, began to photograph young and old satyrs, Ephebes, Apollos and shepherd boys and girls, staging the journey to Arcadia for the camera. Their images were published in such places as the first homoerotic magazine Der Eigene alongside poems, prose and essays. At the same time, these nude photographs were added to ethnographic collections (for example as Sicilian folklore), were discussed in the medical context and were used by (body) reformers to communicate an ideal.


Vividly Immoral – Censored and Pornographic Photography

Since the invention of photography, photographs have been produced that are erotic or pornographic in nature. Crude or more sophisticated fashions, fantasies, means of distribution and censorship changed depending on the period. Around 1900, censorship in Germany generally went hand in hand with the so-called Lex Heinze, a newly added paragraph that forbade public exhibition of material classified as immoral. When enforced, the censorship effort resulted in the impounding by police of thousands of images from individual distribution businesses and studios. But in the face of the new, ever-growing production of nude photographs, the aim of gaining the upper hand over the flood of images was destined to fail.

Material from private collections is rare today but it would have been found in a large number of ordinary households. Aficionados put together albums in which they showed their predilections using a combination of photographs, drawings or caricatures, and sometimes writing. Even the police kept an exemplary inventory of nude photography which they collected in albums. In Germany there remains only the album from the Police Museum of Lower Saxony, whose large format, elaborately stamped leather binding, and careful arrangement of the diverse material make it clear just how significant nude photography was to the guardians of the law, too.


“The photographic plate is the retina of scholars” – The Nude Body in Science

A great number of scientific fields made use of photography in their systematic mapping out of the visible world. The naked body was measured, compared and assessed. Norms were defined and aberrations shown. The new, photographically mediated consciousness of physical constitutions made itself felt in the way people saw themselves and their contemporaries. But the seeming objectivity of the medium also abetted discriminatory views. The photography of movement played a particular role in the photographic experiments that sought to describe and unravel the human body in all its aspects. Special devices were used to record the consecutive positions of motor activities. In addition to movement in everyday life and in sports, photographers also documented freely invented movement and movement resulting from disease. Eadweard Muybridge and Ottomar Anschütz together with Albert Londe count among the best-known representatives of the photographic anatomy study and the systematic recording of movement.

Using special equipment, photographers provided physicians with illustrations of diseases and physical ailments. Image material was gathered on a regular basis and used in medical research and teaching. The often highly suggestive visual language of the time is also reflected in scientific publications. Many of the diagnostic findings and display formats from around 1900 seem outdated today.

When photography became more compatible with travelling, ethnographers brought back to Europe a large number of photographs of the sometimes unclothed inhabitants of colonies they were visiting and exploring. And as the ethnographic nude became more pervasive, posing for the camera became more common. Postures and props were modelled on recognised artworks as well as ideas about foreign cultures that were prevalent in Europe. Photographic comparisons were designed to emphasise particular characteristics of ethnic groups or body types: here, technical tricks, such as using different lighting, backgrounds and poses, came into play. This kind of image material fuelled chauvinist and racist delusions, which became widely published.


“Naked People – a Cheerful Future” – Nude Photography and the Cult of the Body around 1900

At the turn of the century, questions about the body were quickly gaining in importance. Were corsets desirable? The photographs of corset marks on naked female bodies argue against them. What good was exercise? Photographs of trained naked bodies documented the benefits. What did a normal person look like, and what did the ideal body look like? With nude photography printed in numerous magazines and books, people began to develop an eye for these matters. With more and more images becoming available, people became more discerning when it came to their body versus foreign bodies. The body could be compared and evaluated. Ideals spread through powerful imagery and gained an increasing influence on individual body culture.

During the reform movement people, especially those in the German Empire, were drawn to the open air. They enjoyed so-called light baths, whose benefits were discussed at length and proven with photographs. An emerging nudism used photography to demonstrate a deliberately relaxed association with one another. Scantily clad or unclothed, stars soon had their pictures taken onstage, becoming famous when their images were used in advertising and turned into items of mass distribution. Their postcards and cartes de visite were precursors of the pin-up. Several of these images bring to mind hippies of the 1960s and ‘70s. Yet, among the nudists of the turn of the century were also publishers such as Richard Ungewitter, whose racist theories, based in folk identity, lent decidedly ideological undertones to the nude images they used in their argumentation.


Passions of Art Photography – Pictorialist Nudes

Beginning in the 1890s many photographers sought to elevate their craft to the status of art with the aid of particular printing techniques and strategies of image creation. Nude photography, certainly a pleasurable pastime for such ambitious art photographers as the so-called Pictorialists, produced a wide variety of motifs. In the prestigious magazine Camera Work, Alfred Stieglitz published a vast number of such images, including works by Robert Demachy, Constant Puyo, Heinrich Kühn, Annie Brigman and Edward Steichen. Among the Pictorialist nudes are expressive mise-en-scenes, some of them self-portraits of the photographers, whose subject matter was by turns poetic and symbolic. Besides this work, there certainly are images that are conventionally pleasant or academic and that stand out from the common material mostly due to their high print quality. Their pictorial techniques serve an atmosphere of everything from playful coquetry to dramatic religiousness. As the clearly preferred pose of wrestlers was that of a poet or thinker, Auguste Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker can be seen as bringing together the aesthetics of sculpture, Pictorialism and athlete photography.

Press release from the Museum of Photography website


Emile Bayard. 'The Aesthetic Nude No. 34' 1903


Emile Bayard (French, 1837-1891)
From The Aesthetic Nude No. 34


Emile Bayard. 'The Aesthetic Nude No. 34' 1903


Emile Bayard (French, 1837-1891)
From The Aesthetic Nude No. 34



How many artfully-draped centaurs, bacchantes, and nymphs does it take to make a dirty magazine? Only one early 20th-century periodical has the answer: The Aesthetic Nude (Le Nu Esthétique)… Illustrated entirely with unclothed models enacting quasi-mythological imagery, the covers alone range from a rapturous Leda and the Swan to a centaur’s semi-consensual abduction of a nymph (above). Inside each issue appear even more views of studio models in increasingly far-fetched poses, all of which were ostensibly meant to supplant the live model in studio practice. It’s not clear that anyone ever copied these compositions in paint, but the effort that went into cutting out the photos in lively shapes, and the publication’s run of several years (c. 1902-06), suggests a market existed for it!

These ‘aesthetic nudes’ beg the question of what constituted nudity, as opposed to nakedness in the late 19th and early 20th century. Was it simply the academic and mythological guise that made these images acceptable, even collectible?

Text from the ARTicle, Art Institute of Chicago blog [Online] Cited 08/08/2013


Photographer unknown. 'Two women on a carousel Pig' c. 1900


Photographer unknown
Two women on a carousel Pig
c. 1900
Silver gelatin print
© Collection GERARD LEVY, Paris


Albert Londe. '15 Chronophotographs of Charcot's son / Charcot plays football' c. 1890


Albert Londe (French, 1858-1917)
15 Chronophotographs of Charcot’s son / Charcot plays football
c. 1890
Gelatin silver print
© École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts, Paris; Reprofoto: Jean-Michel Lapelerie


Photographer unknown. 'Postcard with Aktmotiv, stamped and postmarked' 1906


Photographer unknown
Postcard with Aktmotiv, stamped and postmarked
© Sammlung Robert Lebeck, Berlin


Photographer unknown (Max Lorenz Nielsen?). 'Male Nude in Tree' c. 1900


Photographer unknown (Max Lorenz Nielsen?)
Male Nude in Tree
c. 1900
Gelatin silver print
© Berlinische Galerie


Rudolf Lehnert and Ernst Landrock. 'Transparency' 1904


Rudolf Lehnert (Austro-Hungarian, 1878-1948) and Ernst Landrock (German, 1878-1966)
Salter paper print
© Münchner Stadtmuseum


Heinrich Kühn. 'Female Nude' c. 1906


Heinrich Kühn (Austrian-German, 1866-1944)
Female Nude
c. 1906
Bromoil print
© Estate of the Artist / Galerie Kicken Berlin



Museum of Photography
Jebensstraße 2, 10623 Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 266424242

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 7pm
Closed Mondays

Museum of Photography website


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Exhibition: ‘Delacroix and Photography’ at Musée national Eugène Delacroix, Paris

Exhibition dates: 28th November 2008 – 2nd March 2009


Many thankx to the Musée national Eugène Delacroix for allowing me to publish the artwork in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.



Eugène Delacroix. 'Etude de jambes d'homme assis et étude d'une tête' nd


Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798-1863)
Etude de jambes d’homme assis et étude d’une tête
Lead pencil
20.3 x 15.2cm
Museum of Fine Arts and Archeology of Besançon
© Museum of Fine Arts and Archeology of Besançon


Eugene Durieu. 'Nu masculin assis de face, les jambes écartées' 1854


Eugène Durieu (French, 1800-1874)
Nu masculin assis de face, les jambes écartées
Plate XV of the Durieu Album
Salted paper from negative paper
17.8 x 12.8cm
BnF, Department of Prints and photography
© BnF



Jean Louis Marie Eugène Durieu (1800-1874) was an early French amateur nude photographer, primarily known for his early nude photographs of men and women. A number of his male and female models were also painted by Eugène Delacroix, with whom he was friends.

Durieu was born in Nîmes, and became known for making studies of nudes for Delacroix. During his career Durieu was a lawyer. His last job was inspector for education and culture. In 1849 he went into early retirement and devoted himself to the newly developing technology of photography. In 1853, Durieu worked with Delacroix on a series of photographs of different male and female nude models.

Text from the Wikipedia website


In the early 1850s, Durieu, like many of his photographic peers, gravitated from the daguerreotype to the calotype. None of the works from his daguerreotypical oeuvre can be attributed to him with any certainty. Apart from the Delacroix album held at the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris, another work on paper does exist, however, a more personal album preserved at the George Eastman House in Rochester, which was once part of the Gabriel Cromer collection. Its repertoire is more varied and includes female nudes in fairly elaborate settings, as well as portraits and reproductions of paintings and engravings. …

In 1851, along with Delacroix, Durieu became one of the founder members of the Société Heliographique, the first French institution to be created specifically for photographers. Above all, its brief was to encourage the development of photography on paper and in particular the calotype as opposed to the daguerreotype.

It was at precisely this time in the early 1850s that Delacroix’s interest in photography was at its height, coinciding with that of Durieu. In February 1850, he wrote in his journal: “ask Boissard for some daguerreotypes on paper,” and later, in September 1850: “Laurens tells me that Ziegler is producing a sizeable number of daguerreotypes, including portrayals of nude men. I intend to go and see him to ask if he can lend me a few.” In May 1853, he showed Pierret and his cousin Léon Riesener the prints given to him by Durieu. In November 1853, he discussed the topic of photography with Riesener, who in the 1840s had not only been a painter but an ‘author’ of daguerreotypes. Delacroix maintained that the term author was a misnomer for what he regarded as a mechanical recording process, a machine-led art: “He referred to the solemn account the good Durieu and his friend, who assists him in these operations, give of their time and trouble, whilst taking much of the credit for the success of the aforementioned operations, or more precisely their results.” He made fun of Riesener, who had asked them with great trepidation if he could use their pictures as models for his paintings without being accused of plagiarism. Finally, on two successive Sundays, 18 and 25 June 1854, he visited Durieu on the seventh floor of his home at 40 rue de Bourgogne to ask him to make a series of photographs of models under his guidance…

Extract from Sylvie Aubenas. “Eugène Durieu, senior civil servant, photographer and forger,” in No 32 Printemps 2015 (translation Caroline Bouché) on the Etudes photographiques website [Online] Cited 04/10/2018


Eugène Durieu (1800-1874) 'Nude couple: female nude standing in the background, male nude sitting in profile on a leopard skin' 1854


Eugène Durieu (French, 1800-1874)
Nude couple: female nude standing in the background, male nude sitting in profile on a leopard skin
Plate 3 of an album containing 32 studies of models
Salted paper print
16.2 x 11.5cm
BnF coll., Paris
© BnF


Eugène Durieu (1800-1874) 'Model of male nude sitting in profile on a leopard skin' 1854


Eugène Durieu (French, 1800-1874)
Model of male nude sitting in profile on a leopard skin
Plate 11 of an album containing 32 studies of models
Salted paper print
17 x 13.5cm
BnF coll., Paris
© BnF



“I look with passion and without fatigue at these photographs of naked men, this admirable poem, this human body on which I learn to read and whose sight tells me more than the inventions of scribblers.”

Delacroix, ‘Journal’, October 5, 1855



Delacroix was confronted, like his entire generation, with the emergence of photography. An intriguing tool fascinating for the painter, this medium occupies a place apart in all of his work. He is at the source of a deep reflection on artistic truth in the face of photographic realism.

Far from seeing photography as a potential rival to painting, Delacroix took a keen interest in the development of this new medium, following its technical progress with sufficient curiosity to become a founding member of the Heliographic Society in 1851. He amassed a considerable photographic collection-of frescoes by Raphael, paintings by Rubens, and cathedral sculptures. Moreover, although he did not use a camera himself, a series of male and female nude models were photographed at his request by Eugène Durieu, in 1854. We know from his diary and letters that he sometimes used these photographs to practice drawing when no live models were available. These shots, which he sometimes carries with him, are a valuable tool for practicing drawing during his stays in the province. They meet very personal criteria; Delacroix wanted to use images voluntarily a little blurry and mostly stripped of all the quaint accessories conveyed by commercial photographs to the attention of artists.

However, despite a deep fascination for photography, Delacroix keeps a critical eye on this new medium. He adopts an attitude sometimes skeptical about his proper use and mastery of the technique, refusing to award benefits beyond its instrumental value. His reluctance is particularly keen with regard to one’s own photographed image: he even goes so far as to demand the destruction of some negatives, fortunately in vain.

Almost all the photographs and the drawings done from them (together with a number of paintings) have been assembled for the first time at the Musée Delacroix, with the generous support of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and other collections. The exhibition also features a surprising series of photographic portraits of Delacroix himself, ranging from the precious intimate daguerreotypes of the 1840s to the more posed and strikingly dignified pictures taken by Carjat or Nadar toward the end of his life-many of which images the great man himself would rather have had destroyed.

Press release from the Musée National Eugène Delacroix


The Durieu Album

The album of thirty-two photographs preserved in the department Prints and Photography of the National Library de France and commonly known as “Durieu Album”, by the name of the author of the photographs contains mainly photographs of two nude models, a man and a woman, taken by Eugene Durieu in the presence and on the indications of Delacroix during two sessions of successive poses, on Sunday 18 and 25 June 1854. The album was probably in lot 1532 of the sale after the painter’s death, bought by the critic Philippe Burty, who said on the front page: “All this sequence of photographs was bought by me at the posthumous sale of Eugène Delacroix’s workshop. He used it often and his cartons contained a considerable number of pencil studies from these photographs some of which were made expressly for him by one of his friends, and the models posed by him.” This album went on to the bibliographer and historian of the art Maurice Tourneux, who offered it in 1899 to the Cabinet des Prints.

The examination of the album, whose pages are all presented here in the order of the pages, shows that divides into four distinct sequences. Plate I represents a seated male nude model. His black beard and its abundant hair absolutely distinguishes him from the model with the better drawn musculature having posed in the following photographs. This test is undoubtedly part of a different set provided by Durieu to Delacroix.

The twenty-six photographs that follow in the album are, like the first, calotypes, that is to say prints from negative on paper. The calotype is characterised by a slight blur that Delacroix’s eyes found useful and tolerable photography, the grain of the negative paper producing, in the prints, less precise contours than in the daguerreotype or prints based on collodion glass. These twenty-six photographs of June 1854 form a very homogeneous series, with two models. The man that Delacroix calls “the Bohemian” appears by the development of his musculature and his ease to pose, as a professional model. He is present alone on seventeen views, and on the other nine in the company of a female model, probably an Italian, also a professional model, who posed again in 1855 for two other photographers.

After this series, the album contains two studies (plates XXVIII and XXIX) of the same young woman, of which one served as the model for Odalisque of 1857 (private collection). The model is Miss Hamély, a small actress who appeared in tableaux vivants and pantomimes at the Porte-Saint-Martin theater (1853) but who also posed for photographers. The freedom that Delacroix takes in the painting in relation to the photography confirms that, he only uses it as a support for the imagination, unlike a painter like Gérôme for whom the cliche really replaces the model. So photography is amalgamated, among other ingredients, in a personal universe, not to mention the colours of the painting.

The album ends with three prints, based on a glass negative, of the same model draped to the waist, sitting in front of a plain canvas background. The sharpness, due to the negative on glass, the rigorous composition and images, their “professional” aspect make them totally different from the previous ones, to such that we can hesitate to attribute them to Durieu. While the calotypes posed by Delacroix are very rare, these last three images are seen in more than one collection; they have been broadcast to a wider audience.

Text from the Delacroix et la photographie exhibition pdf (translated from the French by Google translate)


Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) 'Two studies of naked men one standing, the other sitting' Nd


Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798-1863)
Two studies of naked men one standing, the other sitting
Musée Eugène-Delacroix
© RMN / Michèle Bellot


Eugène Durieu (1800-1874) 'Nu féminin assis sur un divan, la tête soutenue par un bras' 1854


Eugène Durieu (French, 1800-1874)
Nu féminin assis sur un divan, la 
tête soutenue par un bras
Plate XXIX of the Durieu Album
Salted paper varnished from negative paper
14 x 9.5cm
BnF, Department of Prints and Photography
© BnF


Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) 'Odalisque' 1857


Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798-1863)
Oil on wood
39.5 x 31cm
Private Collection


Eugène Durieu (1800-1874) 'Model Study' 1854


Eugène Durieu (French, 1800-1874)
Model Study
BnF, Department of Prints and photography, Paris
© BnF


Louis Camille d'Olivier (1827-1870) 'Female nude' 1855


Louis Camille d’Olivier (French, 1827-1870)
Female nude
Salted paper print
21 x 16cm
BnF, Department of Prints and Photography
© BnF


Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) 'Study of naked woman in profile on the left' Nd


Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798-1863)
Study of naked woman in profile on the left
Lead pencil
13.6 x 20.9cm
Louvre Museum, Department of the Arts graphics
© RMN Photo / Thierry Le Mage


Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) 'Three studies of men' Nd


Eugène Delacroix (French, 1798-1863)
Three studies of men
Lead pencil
19.2 x 25.3cm
Museum of Fine Arts and Archeology from Besançon
© Museum of Fine Arts and Archeology from Besançon


Eugène Durieu (1800-1874) 'Naked man standing, back, holding a vertical stick' Nd


Eugène Durieu (French, 1800-1874)
Naked man standing, back, holding a vertical stick
Albumine paper
9.9 x 5.8cm
Gérard Lévy Collection
© 2008 Louvre Museum / Pierre Ballif


Eugène Durieu (1800-1874) 'Naked man sitting on a chair' Nd


Eugène Durieu (French, 1800-1874)
Naked man sitting on a chair
Albumen paper
9.7 x 5.8cm
Gérard Lévy Collection
© 2008 Louvre Museum / Pierre Ballif


Léon Riesener (1808-1878) 'Portrait of Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)' 1842


Léon Riesener (French, 1808-1878)
Portrait of Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist RMN / Patrice Schmidt



Louis Antoine Léon Riesener (21 January 1808 in Paris – 25 May 1878 in Paris) was a French Romantic painter.

Enchanted by the play of light and reflections which transformed the appearance of matter, Riesener began a new aesthetic that made him one of the precursors of impressionism. A passionate colourist, he researched all the nuances of colour and studied the techniques of ancient Greece and the Renaissance, including Titian, Veronese and Corregio. Impressed by his research into colour, he turned towards Rubens, which for him was the Shakespeare of painting. Very early in his career Riesener studied tonal divisions, well before the physician Chevreul discovered their scientific basis. His tactile taste led him to look for the most perfect expression of matter and particularly of skin. He put poetry into his painting by the play of shadow and he passionately admired nature, life and all the beauties they produced.

He researched the subject of life in the countryside and, liking to paint reality, said he wanted to express “the heat of the day, the melancholy of the evening, meadows, flowers as they are in nature”. His study of the elements caused him to paint a series of skies which varied according to the light and time of day – the subjects were ahead of their time and Riesener had to fight hard against the Salon juries and the Institut. Using pure colours, he excluded the blacks and whites which had been used for shadows and light before him. His material science of colour was the opposition which gave birth to contrasts from juxtaposed pigments. He did not portray faces by contours, but by shadows and modelling.


Relations with Delacroix

After his father’s return from Russia in 1823 Léon got to know Eugène Delacroix better. Ten years older than Riesener, Delacroix was his first-cousin – they shared a grandmother, Marguerite-Françoise Vandercruse, whose daughter by her first marriage was Delacroix’s mother and whose second husband Jean-Henri Riesener was Riesener’s grandfather. Delacroix quickly recognised Riesener’s talent and originality and he supported his early career by recommending him to civil servants he knew. On trips to the countryside they met at Valmont, near Fécamp, the home of their cousin Bataille, owner of the abbaye from 1822 onwards. Riesener devotedly attended Pierret’s salon (Pierret was a school friend of Delacroix), where he met Mérimée, Viel-Castel, Sauvageot, Feuillet de Conches, Viollet-le-Duc, Lasus and Guillemardet. Later, Riesener became friends with Fantin-Latour, Ernest Chausson and the Morisots (the Morisot family was very friendly with the Riesener family, with Rosalie Riesener’s friend Berthe Morisot researching Léon’s opinions, listening to his advice and copying out about 135 pages of his writings) – his friends were artists and he preferred a quiet life rather than the high life favoured by Delacroix.

From childhood, Riesener and Delacroix were friends and confidants. So different in life and character and so independent, they were preoccupied by the same artistic problems and enjoyed exchanging ideas, both having been formed by the 18th century and its neo-classical culture. They discussed their study of the classical world and they were both colourist painters searching for new techniques in tonal division. The difference in their temperaments expressed itself in their ways of looking at nature – Delacroix thought of drama, Riesener thought of sensuality. Delacroix bought Riesener’s painting Angélique as an exemplar for all painters and put it in his studio. On his death in 1863, Delacroix left Riesener his country house at Champrosay.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Nadar (French, 1820-1910) 'Eugène Delacroix seated three-quarter facing, his hand in the waistcoat' 1858


Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon) (French, 1820-1910)
Eugène Delacroix seated three-quarter facing, his hand in the waistcoat
Salted paper
24.5 x 18cm
BnF, Department of Prints and Photography
© BnF



Musée National Eugène Delacroix
6 rue de Furstenberg
75 006 Paris
Phone: +33 (0)1 44 41 86 50

Opening hours:
The museum is open daily except Tuesday, 9.30am – 5pm (tickets sold until 4.30pm)

Musée national Eugène Delacroix website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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