Posts Tagged ‘Napoleon III

02
Nov
14

Review: ‘Victor Hugo: Les Misérables – From Page to Stage’ at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 18th July – 9th November 2014

 

Devour the main course but don’t stay for dessert

This is an exhibition in two galleries. In the first you are not allowed to take photographs but in the second you can take as many as you want. You are told this as you enter the exhibition but the import of this incantation only becomes apparent much later in your visit.

The first gallery is a profound experience: manuscripts, letters, photographs, paintings, and posters that all relate to the great man and his work Les Misérables. The Charles Marville photographs are sublime (as always) with the width of the vertical prints being the element that I noticed most on this viewing. The space that Marville manages to capture in these vertical images makes them seem almost as wide as they are high giving them an almost panoramic feel, as though the space of the image goes on forever, from side to side and into the distance. There is a wonderful sense of volume in the atmosphere, tones and textures of these images. One juxtaposition is particularly tantalising, the pairing of Marville’s Rue Tirechape (1865) with engravings such as the demolition work for constructing the Boulevard St. Germain by Maxine Lalanne (1827-1886). The illusion that one could be the other is enlightening, and there is an established association (especially in Pictorialist photography) between representation in etching and photography.1

As Philip Ebury observes,

“It has often been said that Pictorial photographs resemble works in other media. The analogy with etchings is especially striking and the comparison is more than physical. Between 1890 and the late 1920s, etching and Pictorial photography had a shared history and many similar aims. Parallels between the two disciplines in Australia had their antecedents in England. In the late nineteenth century many photographers in that country were consciously promoting artistic, as opposed to documentary work. At the same time, printmakers were reviving the art of original etching as an expressive rather than a reproductive medium.”2

But the Charles Marville photographs are not the star of the show, oh no. That is left to five things:

a) An album of which you can see only one leaf in the exhibition, Les Proscrits (‘The Exiles’) (1856, below), but that one leaf is enough. The enigma, light and intimacy of this one page is just magnificent.

b) Equally impressive are the very small intense portraits of Victor Hugo such as the silver gelatin photograph attributed to Arsène Garnier (1820-1909) – dark, atmospheric with Neo-classical sculptures and chandeliers reflected in expansive mirrors, VH propped up by a favourite chair; or Charles Hugo’s salted paper print from a collodion negative of his father in Jersey leaning on the back of a chair (1853-55). The intensity of these portraits is remarkable.

c) Victor Hugo’s own paintings, usually pen and brown ink wash on paper, are also very powerful. In images such as Ma destinée (My destiny) (1867, below) where VH wrote in direct conversation with the ocean and The bowels of the Leviathan (1866) – dark, dank labyrinthine Parisian sewers – Hugo draws you into a world of the disenfranchised, the poor, the destitute and their (and his) destiny.

d) The beautiful theatre posters (1880s-1910s) worth the price of admission on their own

e) Leaving the best till last, the autographed manuscript Volume 1 of Les Misérables in all its glory (the first time it has ever left France), complete with revisions, crossings out and the final version in red, resting innocuously in a glass display cabinet. The psychological weight of the volume is immense. This is getting as close to the ‘source’ as you can possibly get without touching it. I remember once holding a first edition of Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol in my hand. This had that same spine tingling effect.

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The first gallery assembles this incredible story and builds a glorious intensity of experience. I was on such an elevated level it was great.

And then, in literally two minutes, it was gone… No, no, no, no!

The second gallery is such a let down. It features costumes, posters, pamphlets and video in an exploration of the musical ‘phenomena’ this is the (Disney-fied) Les Misérables. A stage set from the musical with cut our heads so people can have their photo taken, and for performances; very poor quality black and white images of the sets of the theatrical productions of Les Misérables; a cardboard cut-out two-wheeled cart that is the worst thing that you could possibly see; and videos of workshops with men explaining how they are using a bandsaw to create the stage for the musical (as if I want to see that after what has gone before!). From the sublime to the ridiculous. I’m sure the kids might like it but after seeing such an amazing first half of the exhibition, for me this was like being tied with a ball and chain and dropped over the side to sink like a stone. Why do curators insist on doing this. Do they think that they always have to have a “popular” space for the family and the kids these days. That more is really more?

In this case it quite ruined what was up till then an incredible experience. So visit the exhibition for the main course (and don’t take any photos), but if I were you I would turn around after the first gallery and walk out the way I came in, thinking to myself ‘less is more!

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

1. See Ebury, Frances. “Engravers and Etchers, Pictorialists and Photographers,” Part 2, Chapter 2 in Making Pictures: Australian Pictorial Photography as Art 1897 – 1957 Volume 1. Phd thesis, The University of Melbourne, 2001, p. 73.
2. Ibid.,

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

 

 

“As long as social damnation exists, through laws and customs, artificially creating hell at the heart of civilization and muddying a destiny that is divine with human calamity; as long as the three problems of the century – man’s debasement through the proletariat, woman’s demoralisation through hunger, the wasting of the child through darkness – are not resolved … as long as ignorance and misery exist in this world, books like the one you are about to read are, perhaps, not entirely useless.”

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Victor Hugo, Hauteville House, 1 January 1862

 

 

Victor Hugo. 'Les Misérables vol. 1' 1845-1862

 

Victor Hugo
Les Misérables vol. 1
1845-1862
Autograph manuscript
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Victor Hugo. 'Title page of 'Les Misérables' vol. 1' 1845-1862

 

Victor Hugo
Title page of Les Misérables vol. 1
1845-1862
Autograph manuscript
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Victor Hugo. 'Paris' Paris, 1867

 

Victor Hugo
Paris
Paris, 1867
Maison Littéraire de Victor Hugo

 

Victor Hugo. 'Ma destinée (My destiny)' 1867

 

Victor Hugo
Ma destinée (My destiny)
1867
Ink and brown-ink wash
© Maisons de Victor Hugo / Roger-Viollet

 

'Les Proscrits' ('The Exiles') 1856

 

Les Proscrits (‘The Exiles’)
1856
Album of photographs
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Album The Exiles – Victor Hugo and his circle of friends in exile started in Guernsey on the 1st January 1856. The album creates an allegorical portrait of VH. His family is represented by Victor Hugo’s hand (left), Adele’s hand (right), Marine Terrace their home in Jersey 1852-56 (centre) and VH posing at his desk in his study at Hauterville House, Guernsey, where he completed Les Misérables surrounded by sunlight. The page appears in the posting the correct way up, as it appears in the album.

 

Les Proscrits ('The Exiles') album (detail of page) 1856

 

Victor Hugo’s hand
From the album Les Proscrits (‘The Exiles’) (detail of page)
1856
Album of photographs
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Les Proscrits ('The Exiles') album (detail of page) 1856

 

Victor Hugo posing at his desk in his study at Hauterville House, Guernsey
From the album Les Proscrits (‘The Exiles’) (detail of page)
1856
Album of photographs
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

Edmond Bacot. 'Victor Hugo en 1862' (Victor Hugo in 1862)

 

Edmond Bacot
Victor Hugo en 1862 (Victor Hugo in 1862)
1862
Maison de Victor Hugo
Image © Edmond Bacot / Maisons de Victor Hugo / Roger-Viollet

 

Auguste Rodin. 'Victor Hugo, buste dit À l'Illustre Maître' (Victor Hugo, bust known as 'To the illustrious master') 1883

 

Auguste Rodin
Victor Hugo, buste dit À l’Illustre Maître (Victor Hugo, bust known as ‘To the illustrious master’)
1883
Musée Rodin

 

Rodin states that Hugo would not pose. “I worked out on the veranda. I observed him swiftly, but carefully as he refused to pose. He accepted to be looked at, from all angles, but he would not pose. And so I looked at his conscience. And this is how I was able to capture the real Hugo.”

 

 

When the first two volumes of Les Misérables arrived in Paris in April 1862, all 6000 copies sold in a day. Public readings were organised when copies sold out. Everyone was reading it, from the literary intelligentsia to the common people. It was also quickly translated into nine languages to reach a global audience. After only three months, 100,000 authorised copies (and countless editions on the black market) had been sold worldwide, making the novel into an unprecedented literary bestseller of western literature. In 1870 after the fall of Napoleon III, Hugo returned to France and was hailed a national hero.

Victor Hugo’s legacy and the iconic story of Les Misérables endure to this day with various adaptations being created around the world. There have been at least 48 films, 14 animated films or TV series, radio plays, 12 television miniseries, numerous comic books, and at least 286 editions of Les Misérables published, sung and spoken. The stage musical of Boublil and Schönberg’s Les Misérables is in itself a worldwide phenomenon. It is the longest running theatre performance in London and has been seen by over 65 million people in 43 countries and in 21 languages. It returns to Melbourne in June 2014.

About Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo is considered one of the most important and influential authors of the 19th century. Through his transformative literary works and political activism, French society’s most vulnerable were given a voice in a nation ruled by those with power and privilege. Best known for his novels Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame Hugo is also acclaimed for his theatre, essays, drawings and poetry.

Born in Besançon, France in 1802, Hugo was the son of an atheist and anti-monarchist French General and a Catholic pro-monarchist mother. A precocious talent, Hugo’s first work was published at the age of 15. His debut as a professional writer soon followed with the release of his first volume of romantic poems; Ode et poésies diverses in 1822Many of his early romantic works drew inspiration from his childhood sweetheart and wife Adele Foucher, with whom he had four children. Another powerful female influence on Hugo’s writings was his mistress of more than fifty years, Juliette Drouet.

As Hugo’s career progressed, his aptitude and fondness for romantic literature was matched by his passion for addressing themes of disadvantage and poverty. Hugo’s first major masterpiece The Hunchback of Notre Dame published in 1831 reflected his interest in highlighting such prejudices. However, it was his greatest masterpiece, Les Misérables, that first challenged and then changed the social and political understanding of poverty, disadvantage and inherited privilege in society. In Les Misérables Hugo casts an ex-convict, Jean Valjean, as the revered protagonist and paints a villain of the character representing authority and privilege, Inspector Javert.

Hugo dedicated 17 years of his life to plan and write the epic three part story beginning in the early 1840s and finally publishing the novel in 1862. In addition to his social and political sympathies, Hugo drew from many of his own personal experiences and professional turmoil to inform the characters and themes in Les Misérables. These included the tragic drowning of his eldest daughter, Leopoldine, in a boating accident in 1843, and Hugo’s exile from France by Louis Napoleon III in 1851 – a result of his public opposition to the increasingly authoritarian rule of the self-declared emperor.

From his exile on the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey where he lived for 19 years, Hugo maintained his trenchent opposition to the political status quo and the death penalty, while also publishing widely and spending three years finishing his magnum opus Les Misérables. When Les Misérables finally hit the stands in Paris in 1862 the response by the public was explosive. All 6000 copies sold out in a day, and three months later the book was an international best seller and had been translated into nine languages. Following the success of Les Misérables Hugo returned to France in 1870 after the fall of Napoleon III and was hailed a national hero. He continued to work until he died on 22 May 1885. At his state funeral it was estimated that close to two million people attended. Hugo’s wish to be buried in a pauper’s coffin was granted and his body lay in state under the Arc de Triomphe until he was interred in the Panthéon.

Today Victor Hugo’s extraordinary legacy continues. Les Misérables has been published in at least 250 editions since 1862, 48 films have been made of the story and the Boublil and Schönberg Les Misérables musical has been seen by over 65 million people worldwide in 42 countries and 22 languages, and is one of the most popular musicals of all time. Victor Hugo is remembered as an international literary giant and a French national hero.

Themes

The possibility that the condemned can rise above poverty and degradation to become good and honourable, and perhaps above all to fight for freedom of body and soul.

 

Charles Marville. 'Percement de l'avenue de l'Opéra' (Clearing of the Avenue de l'Opéra) c. 1876

 

Charles Marville
Percement de l’avenue de l’Opéra (Clearing of the Avenue de l’Opéra)
c. 1876
State Library of Victoria

 

Charles Marville. 'Rue Soufflot (pendant la démolition)' (Rue Soufflot [during demolition]) c. 1876-77

 

Charles Marville
Rue Soufflot (pendant la démolition) (Rue Soufflot [during demolition])
c. 1876-77
State Library of Victoria

 

Charles Marville. 'Avenue d'Iéna' c. 1877

 

Charles Marville
Avenue d’Iéna
c. 1877
State Library of Victoria

 

Charles Marville. 'Boulevard Haussmann' c. 1877

 

Charles Marville
Boulevard Haussmann
c. 1877
State Library of Victoria

 

Charles Marville. 'Cour du Dragon' c. 1863-1869

 

Charles Marville
Cour du Dragon, Rue de Taranne
c. 1863-1869
State Library of Victoria

 

Charles Marville. 'Rue Tirechape' c. 1863-69

 

Charles Marville
Rue Tirechape
c. 1863-69
State Library of Victoria

 

Charles Marville. 'Rue de Fontaines' c. 1863-69

 

Charles Marville
Rue de Fontaines
c. 1863-69
State Library of Victoria

 

129_SLV_Marville_Rude-du-Marche-aux-fleurs-WEB

 

Charles Marville
Rue du Marche aux fleurs
c. 1863-69
State Library of Victoria

 

Paul Carpentier. 'Episode du 29 juillet 1830, rue Chilperic, face á la colonnade du Louvre' (Event of 29 July 1830, rue Chilperic, before the colonnade of the Louvre) 1830

 

Paul Carpentier
Episode du 29 juillet 1830, rue Chilperic, face á la colonnade du Louvre (Event of 29 July 1830, rue Chilperic, before the colonnade of the Louvre)
1830
© Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet

 

Ff110366_WEB

 

Charles Méryon
Le petit pont (The little bridge)
1850
National Gallery of Victoria, purchased 1891

 

36_BNF_I-Miserabili-WEB

 

Ottavio Rodella Tavio
Poster for I Miserabili di Victor Hugo (Les Misérables by Victor Hugo)
1890
Bibliothèque nationale de France

 

'Les Misérables by Victor Hugo' New York, Classics Illustrated no. 9 1950

 

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
New York, Classics Illustrated no. 9
1950
State Library of Victoria

 

Design by Slawomir Kitowski. 'Les Misérables poster' 1989-2000

 

Design by Slawomir Kitowski
Les Misérables
poster
1989-2000
Teatr Muzyczny, Gdynia, Poland
Courtesy Cameron Mackintosh Ltd

 

 

State Library of Victoria
328 Swanston St,
Melbourne VIC 3000
T: (03) 8664 7000

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02
Jan
14

Exhibition: ‘Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Exhibition dates: 29th September 2013 – 5th January 2014

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The French photographer Charles Marville (1813-1879) is rapidly becoming a favourite of mine. In fact, I have just ordered Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris by Sarah Kennel from Amazon – a book that comes highly recommended – and I am eagerly awaiting its arrival.

Charles Marville “is primarily known for documenting the transformation of Paris from a medieval city to a modern one, through a series of images of old neighborhoods lost due to urban renewal… Marville’s earliest works were salted paper prints made from paper negatives – soft, high-contrast images not far removed in feeling from the pioneering, somewhat primitive photographs of William Henry Fox Talbot. As photographic technology advanced, Marville shifted to glass negatives that allowed far more visual precision, particularly in the architectural and streetscape images that compose the largest portion of the National Gallery of Art’s retrospective. By the late 1870s, shortly before his death, Marville’s compositions began to presage the more modernist approaches Alfred Stieglitz would pursue just a few years later. (At one point, Marville even experimented with abstracted cloud images, decades before Stieglitz’s famous “equivalents.”) (Text by Louis Jacobson. “Reviewed: Charles Marbille at the National Gallery of Art,” on the Washington City Newspaper blog, posted 22nd October 2013)

Marville can be seen as the precursor to Eugène Atget (1857-1927). Atget would have been in his twenties when Marville was in the last few years of his life. It is interesting to speculate whether the two ever met? (and if they did what they would have talked about!) Atget would have been aware of the older photographers’ work, work that has been criticised for its lack of social consciousness and artistic feeling.

“Comparing Atget’s work with that of his best-known predecessor, Charles Marville (1816-1879), demonstrates another of Atget’s artistic contributions. Marville had been commissioned to make a comprehensive documentation of the vast districts of old housing that were to be demolished as part of Napoleon III’s plan to transform Paris into a modern capital. Marville’s photographs do not linger over any particular building, warm to its charm or embrace its artistic qualities. Instead (perhaps because these buildings were slated for destruction anyway), Marville chose a position from which he could see straight to the end of even the most narrow, winding street, enabling him to photograph the maximum number of structures with one shot.” (Text by Gerald M. Panter. “Atget in Historical Perspective”)

This is to denigrate the work of Marville. His photographs possess more subtly than Atget’s and they sing a different song. To me, Marville’s photographs are like a Bach fugue while Atget’s photographs are a Mozart sonata. Both have different resonances, no less valuable one from the other. It is as if Atget looked at the work of Marville and thought: how can I do this my way, in my own voice – and he then proceeded to “turn up the volume” – by changing the angle and perspective of the camera, by moving horse and cart into more prominent positions, by focusing on details and ghosts. But Marville is no less a master than Atget. You only have to look at the photographs to realise what great sensitivity to subject matter he possessed, what a unique voice this artist had.

Look at the amazing construction of the picture plane in numerous images in this posting. The wall that blocks the way in Impasse de l’Essai from the Horse Market (c. 1868, below) and the pictures elegiac atmosphere, tensioned by the post mimicking the tree at the left hand side and the threatening, dark, brooding forms of both trees overhanging the rooftops of the houses. The three photographs The Bièvre River (fifth arrondissement) (2 images) and Banks of the Bièvre River at the Bottom of the rue des Gobelins (all 1862, below) where the artist leads the eye of the viewer into the image using water, then partially blocks the line of sight into the distance by barrels and posts, shadows and reflections, at the same time limiting the sky to a small section so that the viewer’s eyes have some escape route out of the image. The last image Bièvre River at the Bottom of the rue des Gobelins is almost Cezanne-like in it’s flattening and fracturing of the image plane into modernist shapes. Atget could never have taken photographs like these. They are true masterpieces.

The last five images of city streets in the posting are also illuminating. While they are more frontal than many of Atget’s street photographs, with a longer vista and vanishing point, there is something about them that adds an indelible serenity to the scene. Maybe it’s the foreshortened walls lingering into the distance, the carts, the light, the shadows. Look at the very last photograph, Impasse de la Bouteille (de la rue Montorgeuil) (1865-1868, below) and notice the wonderful two vanishing points and the immense darkness of the intervening wall as it pushes its way into the image, the blackness of this intervention. Incredible.

As John Szarkowski has observed, “In the wet-plate days of Atget’s great predecessor Charles Marville photographed the streets of Old Paris, street by street. In those old streets that still existed a generation later, Atget repeated the work building by building, sometimes door by door, sometimes door knocker by door knocker. He reworked the ore with a finer screen, and sifted out a different precious metal.” (John Szarkowski. Eugène Atget. Museum of Modern Art, 2000, p.15)

Both Marville and Atget are precious metals. For that we are eternally grateful.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the National Gallery of Art, Washington for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Charles Marville. 'Gardens of the Bagatelle under Construction' 1858-1862

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Charles Marville
Gardens of the Bagatelle under Construction
1858-1862
Albumenized salted paper print from collodion negative
Image: 26 x 36 cm (10 1/4 x 14 3/16 in.)
Paula and Robert Hershkowitz

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Charles Marville. 'Marché aux chevaux (Horse Market) (fifth arrondissement)' c. 1867

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Charles Marville
Marché aux chevaux (Horse Market) (fifth arrondissement)
c. 1867
Albumen print from collodion negative
Image: 26.2 x 36.8 cm (10 5/16 x 14 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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Charles Marville. 'Avenue du Commandeur (de la rue d'Alésia) (fourteenth arrondissement)' 1877-1878

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Charles Marville
Avenue du Commandeur (de la rue d’Alésia) (fourteenth arrondissement)
1877-1878
Albumen print from collodion negative
Image: 23 x 36.1 cm (9 1/16 x 14 3/16 in.)
Musée Carnavalet, Paris
© Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet

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3209-124-WEB

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Charles Marville
Impasse de l’Essai (du marché aux chevaux) (Impasse de l’Essai from the Horse Market) (fifth arrondissement)
c. 1868
Albumen print from collodion negative
Image: 24.5 x 36.5 cm (9 5/8 x 14 3/8 in.)
Ville de Paris – Bibliothèque de l’Hôtel de Ville (BHdV)

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Charles Marville. 'Interior of Les Halles Centrales' 1874

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Charles Marville
Interior of Les Halles Centrales
1874
Albumen print from collodion negative
Image: 31.8 x 39.2 cm (12 1/2 x 15 7/16 in.)
The AIA/AAF Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

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Charles Marville. 'The Bièvre River (fifth arrondissement)' c. 1862

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Charles Marville
The Bièvre River (fifth arrondissement)
c. 1862
Albumen print from collodion negative
Image: 26.67 x 37.47 cm (10 1/2 x 14 3/4 in.)
Joy of Giving Something, Inc.

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Charles Marville. 'The Bièvre River (fifth arrondissement)' c. 1862

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Charles Marville
The Bièvre River (fifth arrondissement)
c. 1862
Albumen print from a collodion negative
Image: 27.8 x 37.6 cm (10 15/16 x 14 13/16 in.)
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1988
Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Charles Marville. 'Bords de la Bièvre (au bas de la rue des Gobelins) (Banks of the Bièvre River at the Bottom of the rue des Gobelins) (fifth arrondissement)' c. 1862

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Charles Marville
Bords de la Bièvre (au bas de la rue des Gobelins) (Banks of the Bièvre River at the Bottom of the rue des Gobelins) (fifth arrondissement)
c. 1862
Albumen print from collodion negative
Image: 27.5 x 36.8 cm (10 13/16 x 14 1/2 in.)
Musée Carnavalet, Paris
© Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet

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Charles Marville. 'Percement de l'avenue de l'Opéra (Construction of the avenue de l'Opéra)' December 1876

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Charles Marville
Percement de l’avenue de l’Opéra (Construction of the avenue de l’Opéra)
December 1876
Albumen print from collodion negative
Image: 25.9 x 36.4 cm (10 3/16 x 14 5/16 in.)
Musée Carnavalet, Paris
© Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet

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Charles Marville. 'Haut de la rue Champlain (vue prise à droit) (Top of the rue Champlain) (View to the Right) (twentieth arrondissement)' 1877-1878

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Charles Marville
Haut de la rue Champlain (vue prise à droit) (Top of the rue Champlain) (View to the Right) (twentieth arrondissement)
1877-1878
Albumen print from collodion negative
Image: 26 x 36.6 cm (10 1/4 x 14 7/16 in.)
Musée Carnavalet, Paris
© Charles Marville / Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet

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Charles Marville. 'Urinoir (système Jennings) plateau de l'Ambigu (Urinal, Jennings System, plateau de l'Ambigu)' 1876

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Charles Marville
Urinoir (système Jennings) plateau de l’Ambigu (Urinal, Jennings System, plateau de l’Ambigu)
1876
Albumen print from collodion negative
Image: 26.7 X 36.4 cm (10 1/2 X 14 5/16 in.)
Musée Carnavalet, Paris
© Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet

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Charles Marville. 'Treasury of Reims Cathedral' 1854

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Charles Marville
Treasury of Reims Cathedral
1854
Salted paper print from paper negative
23.1 x 34.5 cm (9 1/8 x 13 9/16 in.)
Private Collection

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Charles Marville. 'Sky Study, Paris' 1856-1857

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Charles Marville
Sky Study, Paris
1856-1857
Albumen print from collodion negative
Image: 16.7 x 20.6 cm (6 9/16 x 8 1/8 in.)
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1987
Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Charles Marville. 'Cloud Study, Paris' 1856-1857

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Charles Marville
Cloud Study, Paris
1856-1857
Albumen print from collodion negative
Image: 15.4 x 25.7 cm (6 1/16 x 10 1/8 in.)
Sheet: 31 x 43.4 cm (12 3/16 x 17 1/16 in.)
Wilson Centre for Photography, London

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“The first exhibition in the United States and the very first scholarly catalogue on the accomplished 19th-century French photographer Charles Marville will explore the beauty, variety, and historical poignancy of Marville’s art. On view at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, from September 29, 2013, through January 5, 2014, Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris will include 99 photographs and three albums that represent the artist’s entire career, from his exquisite city scenes and landscape studies made across Europe in the early 1850s to his compelling photographs of Paris both before and after many of its medieval streets were razed to make way for the broad boulevards, parks, and monumental buildings we have come to associate with the City of Light. The accompanying exhibition catalogue will present recently discovered, groundbreaking scholarship informing Marville’s art and his biography.

“Although his photographs of Paris on the brink of modernity are widely hailed as among the most accomplished ever made of that city, Marville himself has long remained an enigma to art historians,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. “We are thrilled to present this new look at the art and life of Marville and are deeply grateful to lenders, both public and private, for making this landmark show possible.”

Forty-one of the 102 works presented in the exhibition are on loan from the Musée Carnavalet, Paris.  Conservation and preparation of the loans from the Musée Carnavalet has been undertaken by the Atelier de Restauration et de Conservation des Photographies de la Ville de Paris (ARCP).

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Recent Discoveries

Marville has long remained a mystery partly because documents that would shed light on his biography were thought to have disappeared in a fire that consumed Paris’ city hall in 1871. The whereabouts of other documentation was simply unknown. However, new research has helped curator Sarah Kennel and exhibition researcher Daniel Catan reconstruct Marville’s personal and professional biography.

The son of a tailor and laundress, Charles-François Bossu was born in Paris 1813. In a double act of self-invention, he jettisoned his given name (bossu means hunchback in French) around 1832, at the moment he became an artist. He embarked upon a career as an illustrator in the early 1830s but turned to the young discipline of photography in 1850. Although he continued to be known as Marville until his death in 1879, he never formally changed his name, which is the reason many of the legal documents pertaining to his life have gone unnoticed for decades. The exhibition catalogue establishes Marville’s biography, including his parentage and his relationship with a lifelong companion, and uncovers many significant details that illuminate the evolution and circumstances of his career.

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The Exhibition and Artist’s Background

A talented and prolific artist lauded for his rigorously composed, beautifully detailed prints, Marville was commissioned in the early 1860s to record the city of Paris in transition. He soon became known as the official photographer of Paris and produced one of the earliest photographic series documenting urbanization. He continues to be recognized as one of the most accomplished photographers in the history of the medium.

Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris offers an overview of the artist’s photographic career, beginning with a compelling series of intimate self-portraits and portraits of friends and colleagues that provide a fascinating window into Marville’s personal life and professional ties, and serve as an introduction to the exhibition. Starting in 1850, Marville traveled throughout France and Germany, using the paper negative process with great skill to create beautiful landscapes, cityscapes, studies of sculpture, and striking architectural photographs. Many of these works were included in albums produced by the pioneering publisher Louis-Désiré Blanquart-Evrard. The quantity and quality of the photographs used by the publisher serve as both a testament to Marville’s skill and an indication that his training as an illustrator prepared him exceptionally well for this new pictorial enterprise of photographic documentation.

In the mid-1850s, Marville adopted the collodion negative process and undertook a series of sky and cloud studies, made from the rooftop of his Parisian studio. More rapid and sensitive than the paper negative process, the collodion negative process enabled the photographer to capture delicate, luminous cloud formations on the city’s horizon and made him one of the first artists successfully to photograph clouds. At the same time, Marville expanded his practice by honing in on two lucrative areas: reproductions of works of art and architectural photographs. He excelled at both and assumed the title and related privileges of photographer to the Louvre while he also documented building and renovation projects in Paris and the provinces for prominent French architects, including Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.

In 1858, Marville was commissioned by the city of Paris to photograph the newly refurbished Bois de Boulogne, a royal park on the edge of Paris that had been transformed under the emperor Napoleon III into a site of bourgeois leisure and pleasure. Arguably his first important body of work that was conceived and executed as a systematic series, the Bois de Boulogne series would influence his best-known work, the Old Paris photographs. Commissioned by Paris’ agency on historic works (under the aegis of urban planner Georges-Eugène Baron Haussmann) in the early 1860s, Marville made more than 425 photographs of the narrow streets and crumbling buildings of the premodern city at the very moment they were threatened by demolition. Known as the Old Paris album, the photographs are captivating for their seamless integration of artistic sensibility and intense devotion to maximum visual clarity. In many cases they serve as the only visual record of sites that have long since vanished.

The exhibition closes with an exploration of the emergence of modern Paris through Marville’s photographs. Even before completing the Old Paris series, Marville began to photograph the city that was coming into being, from massive construction projects, renovated churches, and broad boulevards to a host of modern conveniences, such as the elegant new gas lamps and the poetically named vespasiennes (public urinals) that cemented Paris’ reputation in the 1860s as the most modern city in the world. Marville also explored the city’s edges, where desolate stretches of half-finished construction suggest the physical displacements and psychic costs of modernization. Sharp-edged, beautifully detailed, and brilliantly composed, Marville’s photographs of the French capital as at once glamorous and alienating do not simply document change but in their very form shape the visual rhetoric of modern Paris.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Art website

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Charles Marville. 'South Portal, Chartres Cathedral' 1854

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Charles Marville
South Portal, Chartres Cathedral
1854
Salted paper print from paper negative
Image: 21.5 x 15.5 cm (8 7/16 x 6 1/8 in.)
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Jennifer and Joseph Duke Gift and The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2000
Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Charles Marville. 'Cathédrale de Chartres, Grandes Figures des pilastres du portail septentrional' (Chartres Cathedral, Columnar Figures, Northern Portal) 1854

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Charles Marville
Cathédrale de Chartres, Grandes Figures des pilastres du portail septentrional (Chartres Cathedral, Columnar Figures, Northern Portal)
1854
Salted paper print from paper negative
Image: 36 x 25.6 cm (14 3/16 x 10 1/16 in.)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of Paul F. Walter

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Charles Marville. 'Charles Delahaye' 1855-1856

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Charles Marville
Charles Delahaye
1855-1856
Salted paper print from paper (or glass?) negative
Image: 21.6 × 15.9 cm (8 1/2 × 6 1/4 in.)
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, W. Bruce and Delaney H. Lundberg and Christian Keesee Charitable Trust Gifts, 2011
Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Charles Marville. 'Self-Portrait at a Window, February 20, 1851' 1851

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Charles Marville
Self-Portrait at a Window, February 20, 1851
1851
salted paper print from paper negative
image: 14.29 x 11.4 cm (5 5/8 x 4 1/2 in.)
support: 32.2 x 24.5 cm (12 11/16 x 9 5/8 in.)
mat: 53 x 40.5 cm (20 7/8 x 15 15/16 in.)
Musée d’Orsay, Paris

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Charles Marville. 'Self-Portrait' 1861

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Charles Marville
Self-Portrait
1861
Albumen print from collodion negative
Image: 23.5 x 18.3 cm (9 1/4 x 7 3/16 in.)
Collection Debuisson

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Charles Marville. 'Rue de la Bûcherie, from the cul de sac Saint-Ambroise (fifth arrondissement)' 1866-1868

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Charles Marville
Rue de la Bûcherie, from the cul de sac Saint-Ambroise (fifth arrondissement)
1866-1868
Albumen print from collodion negative
Image: 32 x 27.1 cm (12 5/8 x 10 11/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation through Robert and Joyce Menschel

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Charles Marville. 'Rue Saint-Jacques (fifth arrondissement)' 1865-1866

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Charles Marville
Rue Saint-Jacques (fifth arrondissement)
1865-1866
Albumen print from collodion negative
Image: 30.8 x 27 cm (12 1/8 x 10 5/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation through Robert and Joyce Menschel

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Charles Marville. 'Cour Saint-Guillaume (ninth arrondissement)' 1866-1867

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Charles Marville
Cour Saint-Guillaume (ninth arrondissement)
1866-1867
Albumen print from collodion negative
Image: 34.2 x 27.2 cm (13 7/16 x 10 11/16 in.)
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection, Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2005

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Charles Marville. 'Passage Saint-Guillaume (vers la rue Richelieu) (first arrondissement)' 1863-1865

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Charles Marville
Passage Saint-Guillaume (vers la rue Richelieu) (first arrondissement)
1863-1865
Albumen print from collodion negative
Image: 31.91 x 27.62 cm (12 9/16 x 10 7/8 in.)
Joy of Giving Something, Inc.

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Charles Marville. 'Rue Ollivier (vers la rue Saint-Georges) (ninth arrondissement)' c. 1868

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Charles Marville
Rue Ollivier (vers la rue Saint-Georges) (ninth arrondissement)
c. 1868
Albumen print from collodion negative
Image: 28.6 x 27.6 cm (11 1/4 x 10 7/8 in.)
Joy of Giving Something, Inc.

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Charles Marville. 'Impasse de la Bouteille (de la rue Montorgeuil) (second arrondissement)' 1865-1868

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Charles Marville
Impasse de la Bouteille (de la rue Montorgeuil) (second arrondissement)
1865-1868
Albumen print from collodion negative
Image: 35.9 x 27.7 cm (14 1/8 x 10 7/8 in.)
Musée Carnavalet, Paris
© Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet

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National Gallery of Art
National Mall between 3rd and 7th Streets
Constitution Avenue NW, Washington

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday 1000 am – 5.00 pm
Sunday 11.00 am – 6.00 pm

National Gallery of Art website

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27
Oct
12

Exhibition: ‘Edouard Baldus and the Modern Landscape. Important Salt Prints of Paris from the 1850s’ at James Hyman Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 12th October – 9th November 2012

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A beautiful, complimentary post to the last one on the exhibition Eugène Atget: Old Paris. It is interesting to compare the styles of the two photographers and the change in photography that takes place between the 1850s and the 1890s. Baldus’ photographs are eloquent in their grandeur and frontality, tonality and texture. Atget’s photographs on the other hand are slightly claustrophobic in their intensity, the camera obliquely placed to capture old buildings, narrow cobbled streets and distant vanishing points. Both, in their own way, are very modern photographers. Baldus’ legacy, as Dr James Hyman correctly notes, was his influence on his German compatriots such as the Bechers, Thomas Struth and, to a lesser extent, Andreas Gursky. His rigorous frontality (the photographing of the thing itself) gives his photographs the simplicity of diagrams and emphasises their topographical state, while their density of detail offers encyclopedic richness. This straightforward “objective” point of view was most notably used by Bernd and Hilla Becher in contemporary photography. Atget’s photographs, on the other hand, aroused an immediate interest “among the Surrealists because of the composition, ghosting, reflections, and its very mundanity.”

Conversely, it is the subjective signature of both artists that make their work truly great – not the mundanity, not the topographic objectivity but their intimate vision of this city, Paris. As I noted in an earlier posting on the Bechers,

“These are subjective images for all their objective desire. The paradox is the more a photographer strives for objectivity, the more ego drops away, the more the work becomes their own: subjective, beautiful, emotive… What makes great photographers, such as Eugène Atget, Walker Evans, August Sander and the Bechers, is the idiosyncratic “nature” of their vision: how Atget places his large view camera – at that particular height and angle to the subject – leaves an indelible feeling that only he could have made that image, to reveal the magic of that space in a photograph. It is their personal, unique thumbprint, recognisable in an instant.”

The same can be said of Baldus and these magnificent, ethereal photographs.

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

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Edouard Baldus
Le Nouveau Louvre
c. 1857
Salt print mounted on card
31.6 x 44.3 cms (12.42 x 17.41 ins)
Le Nouveau Louvre series: 1855-7 Negative: Lower left inscribed in negative: no 107 Mount: Lower right beneath negative: stamped E. Baldus Lower left bottom: Le Nouveau Louvre
Dimensions Mount: 43.8 x 60.9 cms Image: 31.6 x 44.3 cms

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Mid-nineteenth century Paris was a city in the midst of modernisation, and as such, was ripe for documentation of its changing landscape. Counted as one of the premier photographers of his day, Edouard Baldus captured the aesthetic of the Second Empire’s ideology in his monumental views of both old and new Parisian landmarks. In 1855, Baldus received his largest commission, to document the construction of the Musee du Louvre. This rich salt print is a survey of the project as it nears almost full completion. Baldus produced over two thousand images of each part of the new Louvre, from large pavilions to small decorative statue. This photograph, however, takes a step back from the individual pieces of the lengthy project, and allows the viewer to appreciate the endeavour as a whole.

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Edouard Baldus
Vue generale de Paris pont neuf
c. 1855
Salt print mounted on card
33.6 x 43.9 cms (13.20 x 17.25 ins)
Negative: Lower left inscribed in negative: no 82 Mount: Lower right beneath negative: stamped E. Baldus Lower left bottom: Vue generales des Paris pont neuf
Dimensions Mount: 43.9 x 61 cms Image: 33.6 x 43.9 cms

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Edouard Baldus
Le Pantheon
1853
Salt print mounted on card
33.8 x 43.5 cms (13.28 x 17.10 ins)
Negative: Lower left inscribed in negative: Le Pantheon Lower right inscribed in negative: Baldus Mount: Lower right beneath negative: stamped E. Baldus Lower left bottom: Le Pantheon
Dimensions Mount: 44 x 60.8 cms Image: 33.8 x 43.5 cms

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Due to the strength of his architectural imagery and work with the Mission Heliographique, Baldus would go on to gain the support of a government commission, Les Villes de France Photographies, which focused on the landmarks of Paris in particular, such as the Pantheon. Similar in style to the frontal views of the Louvre pavilions, this image is a precursor to that project, and also includes Saint Etienne du Mont in its background. The Pantheon is one of Paris’ best-known landmarks, and was originally built as a church dedicated to Saint Genevieve. Looking out over the whole of the city, it is now a mausoleum that houses the remains of distinguished French citizens.

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Edouard Baldus
Arc de Caroussel
c. 1853
Salt print mounted on card
34.1 x 44.3 cms (13.40 x 17.41 ins)
Negative: Lower left inscribed in negative: signature of E.Baldus Lower right inscribed in negative: no.81 Mount: Lower right beneath negative: stamped E.Baldus Lower left bottom: Arc de Caroussel
Dimensions: Mount: 43.9 x 61 cms Image: 34.1 x 44.3 cms

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One of Baldus’ greatest projects was to provide a photographic inventory of the New Louvre and adjoing Tuilleries. A number of these works are of particular interest, expecially those of the Tuilleries Palace, which would be burnt down in 1870-1. All that remains today is the central triumphal arch, the Caroussel, which is depicted here, still with the palace visible in the background. Built between 1806 and 1808, the Arc de Caroussel is a monument commemorating Napolean’s military victories, with Peace riding a triumphal chariot atop the central archway. Two guards flank the sides of the arch, each atop their own horse, which not only provide for a sense of scale, but, being slightly blurred, also hint at the length of Baldus’ exposure. This enhances the effects of the delicately carved sculptures that adorn the archway, presented here with a clarity that defined the standard Baldus set with his architectural images.

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“James Hyman is proud to present a loan exhibition of one of the greatest photographers of the nineteenth century, Edouard Baldus. Remarkably, this is the first major exhibition of Edouard Baldus ever to be staged in London. Baldus was famed for his monumental photographs of the buildings of Paris at a time of massive transition under Napoleon III, Baron Haussman and Viollet Le Duc, as well as the depiction of the contemporary landscape of France. Acclaimed as the greatest architectural photographer of the nineteenth century, Baldus’s prints were some of the largest photographs in existence and pioneered an aesthetic of presenting modernity and the modern city that would have a profound influence on later photographers from the Bechers to John Davies.

Baldus was one of the great calotypists of the 1850s, producing works of an unprecedented range and scale. He moved to Paris in 1838 to study painting alongside other future photographers such as Le Gray, Le Secq, and Negre. He frequently retouched his paper negatives, adding pencil and ink, to add clouds or clarify details, then printing his own large-scale negatives. He was also adept at stitching several negatives together to re-create architectural views, most famously in his views of the cloisters of Saint Trophime.

Famed especially for his depiction of architecture, Baldus not only documented the modernisation of Paris but also travelled widely through France recording modernity and new construction – including new railways and aqueducts, as well as the building of the new Louvre. In 1851 the Commission des Monuments Historiques cited Baldus as one of the five best architectural photographers and he was commissioned to record the monuments of France for what became known as the Mission heliographic. His beginnings in photography are not well documented before his participation in the Mission heliographique, although it is known that he took photographs of Montmajour in 1849.

In 1852 he began Villes de France photographies to which the minister of Beaux-Arts subscribed until 1860. In 1854 he travelled with his student Petiot-Groffier in Auvergne and in 1855 the Baron James de Rothschild commissioned him to photograph the new Northern train line from Paris to Boulogne as a gift, in the form of a commemorative album, for Queen Victoria before her visit to the Exposition Universelle. Later, in his commission to document the reconstruction of the Louvre, Baldus took more than two thousand views in a period of three years. His last big commission was from 1861-1863 documenting the Paris-Lyon-Mediterranean train line illustrating seventy views of the train’s track. After this, Baldus tried to provide more commercial alternatives to his large-format works, creating smaller prints and heliogravures of his earlier work. Unfortunately, the effort was unsuccessful and Baldus passed away in bankruptcy and relative obscurity.”

Press release from the James Hyman website

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Edouard Baldus
Pavillon Colbert, Nouveau Louvre, Paris
c. 1855
Salt print mounted on card
43.2 x 34.1 cms (16.98 x 13.40 ins)
Stamped ‘E. Baldus’ on the lower right of the mount and titled lower left ‘Pavillon Colbert Nouveau Louvre’
Dimensions Mount: 61 x 43.9 cms Image: 43.2 x 34.1 cms

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Of the many photographs Baldus took of the Louvre during the period 1855-57, it is his large-format photographs of the main pavilions that best demonstrate the stretch of his artistic achievements. Commissioned by the French government once again, Baldus was charged with documenting every aspect of the new Palace’s construction, which was to be the Second Empire’s largest building project. Consequently, over the course of two years, it also evolved into the largest photographic commission to date, and Baldus took over two thousand photographs ranging in subject matter from individual statuary to the grand frontal views of each completed pavilion, such as this example of the Pavillon Colbert.

This particular photograph is an astounding example of the precision and clarity wet plate negatives afforded Baldus in capturing the texture of New Louvre’s stonework. Each part of the façade, from the temple relief statuary to the columns flanking the entryway, is bathed in a bright light that emphasises the three-dimensionality of the new pavilion. The sense of crisp stonework evident in this image is only heightened by the blurred tree in the bottom left corner, as well as the trace of a ghostly figure in the foreground – a horse and cart that paused long enough to be captured, just barely, in Baldus’ long exposure.

The subject of this picture brings to bear the importance of the symbolism of the architecture of the Nouveau Louvre for the reign of Napoleon III. The relief and figures on the façade of the Pavillon Colbert highlight France’s greatest realms of achievement, from the conquering of nature through to industry. The upmost relief represents Earth and Water, while the figures to either side personify Science and Industry. Baldus has also ensured that a human figure on the right-hand side of the central entrance has stood still long enough to provide the viewer with a sense of the imposing scale of the statuary, as well as the entire façade. The result is a striking image that is sharper than any contemporary enlargement, exemplary of Baldus’ ability to isolate and capture architecture while giving a slight hint to the life that continued to move around it.

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Edouard Baldus
Pavillon de la Bibliotheque, Rue de Rivoli, Paris
c. 1855
Salt print mounted on card
43.2 x 34.3 cms (16.98 x 13.48 ins)
Inscribed ‘no 103’ in the negative, lower left. Stamped E. Baldus on the lower right of the mount and titled lower left ‘Nouveau Louvre Rue Rivoli’
Dimensions Mount: 50.7 x 44 cms Image: 43.2 x 34.3 cms

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Edouard Baldus
Pavillon Richelieu, Nouveau Louvre, Paris
c. 1855
Salt print mounted on card
45 x 34.5 cms (17.69 x 13.56 ins)
Inscribed ‘no 79’ in the negative, lower left and signed in the negative lower right ‘E. Baldus’ Stamped E. Baldus on the lower right of the mount and titled lower left ‘Pavillon Richelieu Nouveau Louvre’
Dimensions Mount: 61 x 43.9 cms Image: 45 x 34.5 cms

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An image that the Metropolitan Museum of Art describes as “among the most spectacular of all Baldus photographs,” it is clear that Baldus took full advantage of the opportunity to use larger equipment, which was necessary to capture his tremendous subject. The technical advantages afforded by glass plate negatives allowed him to create equally large contact prints without joining separate negatives, as was his practice with many of his earlier images. Here, the resulting photograph depicts the Pavillon Richelieu in a striking range of tonality, from the crisp texture of the street to the glowing reflection of the pavilion’s new tiled roof.

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Edouard Baldus
Pavillon Sully, Nouveau Louvre, Paris
c. 1857
Salt print mounted on card
44.5 x 34.5 cms (17.49 x 13.56 ins)
Inscribed ‘no 92’ in the negative, lower left. Stamped E. Baldus on the lower right of the mount and titled lower left ‘Pavillon Sully Nouveau Louvre’.
Dimensions Mount: 61 x 44 cms Image: 44.9 x 34.5 cms

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Baldus returned to this particular pavilion numerous times, his earliest images of the structure produced while he was photographing for the Mission Heliographique. The Pavillon Sully was originally built during the Classical Period of Louis XIV in 1625, and served as a model for the Second Empire additions. One of the grandest of all the completed facades, the Pavillon Sully acquired many sculputural additions during the reconstruction, but the central clock from which the pavilion derived its original name (Pavillon de l’Horloge) remained central.

Taking an elevated view, Baldus depicted the Pavillon Sully with exemplary precision that is sharper than any contemporary enlargement. The result is one of the most imposing images of the Nouveau Louvre pavilions, giving the entire façade a commanding sense of presence as it rises above trees in the foreground, which are just blurred enough to reveal Baldus’ long exposure.

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Edouard Baldus
Saint Etienne du Mont, Paris
c. 1858
Salt print mounted on card
44.1 x 34.2 cms (17.33 x 13.44 ins)
Stamped E Baldus on the lower right of the mount and titled lower left ‘St Etienne du Mont’ Dimensions Mount: 61 x 43.9 cms Image: 44.1 x 34.2 cms

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Edouard Baldus
Notre Dame, Facade Principale, Paris
1857
Salt print mounted on card
44.5 x 34.2 cms (17.49 x 13.44 ins)
Inscribed ‘no 34’ in the negative, lower right. Stamped E. Baldus on the lower right of the mount and titled lower left ‘Notre Dame Facade Principal’
Dimensions Mount: 61 x 44 cms Image: 44.5 x 34.2 cms

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This iconic image of Notre Dame embodies the direct and frontal style that came to define Baldus’ architectural images. Here, he has captured the majesty of one of Paris’ most notable landmarks by elevating his vantage point and placing the viewer at eye level with its magnificent rose window. This print is a carefully executed example of the type of balance and symmetry Baldus aimed to capture while working on this commission.

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James Hyman Gallery
16 Savile Row
London W1S 3PL
Telephone 020 7494 3857

Opening hours:
By appointment

James Hyman Gallery website

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22
Aug
12

Exhibition: ‘Portraits of Renown: Photography and the Cult of Celebrity’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 3rd April – 26th August 2012

 

Marie Cosindas (American, born 1925) 'Yves Saint Laurent, Paris' 1968

 

Marie Cosindas (American, born 1925)
Yves Saint Laurent, Paris
1968
Dye colour diffusion [Polaroid ®] print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Marie Cosindas

 

 

On the Nature of Photography

 

“To get from the tangible to the intangible (which mature artists in any medium claim as part of their task) a paradox of some kind has frequently been helpful. For the photographer to free himself of the tyranny of the visual facts upon which he is utterly dependent, a paradox is the only possible tool. And the talisman paradox for unique photography is to work “the mirror with a memory” as if it were a mirage, and the camera is a metamorphosing machine, and the photograph as if it were a metaphor… Once freed of the tyranny of surfaces and textures, substance and form [the photographer] can use the same to pursue poetic truth.”

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Newhall, Beaumont (ed.,). The History of Photography. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1982, p. 281

 

“Carol Jerrems and I taught at the same secondary school in the 1970’s. In a classroom that was unused at that time, I remember having my portrait taken by her. She held her Pentax to her eye. Carols’ portraits all seemed to have been made where the posing of her subjects was balanced by an incisive naturalness (for want of a better description). As a challenge to myself I tried to look “natural”, but kept in my consciousness that I was having my portrait taken. Minutes passed and neither she nor her camera moved at all.

Then the idea slipped from my mind for just a moment, and I was straightaway bought back by the sound of the shutter. What had changed in my face? – probably nothing, or 1 mm of muscle movement. Had she seen it through the shutter? Or something else – I don’t know.”

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Australian artist Ian Lobb on being photographed by the late Carol Jerrems

 

 

There is always something that you can’t quite put your finger on in an outstanding portrait, some ineffable other that takes the portrait into another space entirely. I still haven’t worked it out but my thoughts are this: forget about the pose of the person. It would seem to me to be both a self conscious awareness by the sitter of the camera and yet at the same time a knowing transcendence of the visibility of the camera itself. In great portrait photography it is almost as though the conversation between the photographer and the person being photographed elides the camera entirely. Minor White, in his three great mantras, the Three Canons, observes:

 

Be still with yourself
Until the object of your attention
Affirms your presence
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Let the Subject generate its own Composition
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When the image mirrors the man
And the man mirrors the subject
Something might take over

 

Freed from the tyranny of the visual facts something else emerges.

Celebrities know only too well how to “work” the camera but the most profound portraits, even of celebrities, are in those moments when the photographer sees something else in the person being photographed, some unrecognised other that emerges from the shadows – a look, a twist of the head, the poignancy of the mouth, the vibrancy of the dancer Josephine Baker, the sturdiness of the gaze of Walt Whitman with hands in pockets, the presence of the hands (no, not the gaze!) of Picasso. I remember taking a black and white portrait of my partner Paul holding a wooden finial like a baby among some trees, a most beautiful, revealing photograph. He couldn’t bear to look at it, for it stripped him naked before the lens and showed a side of himself that he had never seen before: vulnerable, youthful, beautiful.

Why do great portrait photographers make so many great portraits? Why can’t this skill be shared or taught? Why can’t Herb Ritts (for example) make a portrait that goes beyond a caricature? Why is it that what can be taught is so banal that it has no value?

In photography, maybe we edit out what is expected and then it seems that photography does something that goes beyond language; it goes beyond function that can be described as a part of speech, metonym or metaphor. When this something else takes over I think it is truly “unrecognised” in the best portraits – and it is fantastic and wonderful.

This is the ultimate understanding of perception and vision – when spirit takes over – the ability to see it in the mind, through the viewfinder and be able to reveal it in the physicality of the print. This, I believe, is the reality of photography itself in its absolute essential form – and here I am deliberately forgetting about post-photography, post-modernism, modernism, pictorialism, ism, ism – and getting down to why I really like photography: the BEYOND the visualisation of a world, the transcendence of time and space that leads, in great photographs, to a recognition of the discontinuous nature of life but in the end, to its ultimate persistence.

This is as close as I have got so far…

Dr Marcus Bunyan
August 2012

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

 

Mariana Cook (American, b. 1955) 'Barack and Michelle Obama, Chicago' May 26, 1996

 

Mariana Cook (American, b. 1955)
Barack and Michelle Obama, Chicago
May 26, 1996
Selenium-toned gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Marie Cosindas (American, born 1925) 'Andy Warhol' 1966

 

Marie Cosindas (American, born 1925)
Andy Warhol
1966
Dye colour diffusion [Polaroid ®] print
11.4 x 8.9cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Marie Cosindas

 

Marie Cosindas (American, born 1925) 'Yves St Laurent' 1968

 

Marie Cosindas (American, born 1925)
Yves St Laurent
1968
Dye colour diffusion [Polaroid ®] print
11.4 x 8.9cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Marie Cosindas

 

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987) 'Grace Jones' 1984

 

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987)
Grace Jones
1984
Polaroid Polacolor print
9.5 x 7.3cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2011 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Edward Weston (American, 1889-1958) 'Igor Stravinsky' 1935

 

Edward Weston (American, 1889-1958)
Igor Stravinsky
1935
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Coy Watson Jr. (American, 1912–2009) 'Joe Louis – “The Brown Bomber”, Los Angeles, February 1935'

 

Coy Watson Jr. (American, 1912–2009)
Joe Louis – “The Brown Bomber”, Los Angeles, February 1935
1935
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Edward Steichen. 'Gloria Swanson' 1924

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Gloria Swanson
1924
Gelatin silver print
27.8 x 21.6 cm (10 15/16 x 8 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Permission Joanna T. Steichen

 

 

Portraits of Renown surveys some of the visual strategies used by photographers to picture famous individuals from the 1840s to the year 2000. “This exhibition offers a brief visual history of famous people in photographs, drawn entirely from the Museum’s rich holdings in this genre,” says Paul Martineau, curator of the exhibition and associate curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum. “It also provides a broad historical context for the work in the concurrent exhibition Herb Ritts: L.A. Style, which includes a selection of Ritts’s best celebrity portraits.”

Photography’s remarkable propensity to shape identities has made it the leading vehicle for representing the famous. Soon after photography was invented in the 1830s, it was used to capture the likenesses and accomplishments of great men and women, gradually supplanting other forms of commemoration. In the twentieth century, the proliferation of photography and the transformative power of fame have helped to accelerate the desire for photographs of celebrities in magazines, newspapers, advertisements, and on the Internet. The exhibition is arranged chronologically to help make visible some of the overarching technical and stylistic developments in photography from the first decade of its invention to the end of the twentieth century.

A wide range of historical figures are portrayed in Portraits of Renown. A photograph by Alexander Gardner of President Lincoln documents his visit to the battlefield of Antietam during the Civil War. Captured by Nadar, a portrait of Alexander Dumas, best known for his novels The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, shows the author with an energetic expression, illustrating the lively personality that made his writing so popular. Baron Adolf De Meyer’s portrait of Josephine Baker, an American performer who became an international sensation at the Folies Bergère in Paris, showcases her comedic charm, a trait that proved central to her popularity as a performer. An iconic portrait of the silent screen actress, Gloria Swanson, created by Edward Steichen for Vanity Fair reveals both the intensity of its sitter and the skill of the artist. A picture of Pablo Picasso by his friend Man Ray portrays the master of Cubism with a penetrating gaze.

Yves St. Laurent, Andy Warhol, and Grace Jones are among the contemporary figures included in the exhibition. Fashion designer Yves St. Laurent was photographed by Marie Cosindas using instant color film by Polaroid. The photograph, made the year his first boutique in New York opened, graced the walls of the store for ten years. A Cosindas portrait of Andy Warhol shows the artist wearing dark sunglasses, which partially conceal his face. Warhol, who was fascinated by celebrity, delighted in posing public personalities like Grace Jones for his camera.

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum website

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976) 'Pablo Picasso' 1934

 

Man Ray (American, 1890-1976)
Pablo Picasso
1934
Gelatin silver print
25.2 x 20cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© Man Ray Trust ARS-ADAGP

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'James Joyce' 1928

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
James Joyce
1928
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Baron Adolf De Meyer (American, born France, 1868-1946) 'Portrait of Josephine Baker' 1925

 

Baron Adolf De Meyer (American, born France, 1868-1946)
Portrait of Josephine Baker
1925
Collotype print
39.1 x 39.7cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

In 1925 Josephine Baker, an American dancer from Saint Louis, Missouri, made her debut on the Paris stage in La Revue nègre (The Black Review) at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, wearing nothing more than a skirt of feathers and performing her danse sauvage (savage dance). She was an immediate sensation in Jazz-Age France, which celebrated her perceived exoticism, quite the opposite of the reception she had received dancing in American choruses. American expatriate novelist Ernest Hemingway called Baker “the most sensational woman anybody ever saw – or ever will.”

Baron Adolf de Meyer, a society and fashion photographer, took this playful portrait in the year of Baker’s debut. Given the highly sexual nature of her stage persona, this portrait is charming and almost innocent; Baker’s personality is suggested by her face rather than her famous body.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973) 'John Barrymore as Hamlet' 1922

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
John Barrymore as Hamlet
1922
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1964-1946) 'Georgia O'Keeffe: A Portrait' 1918

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1964-1946)
Georgia O’Keeffe: A Portrait
1918
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Arnold Genthe (American, born Germany, 1869-1942) 'Anna Pavlowa' about 1915

 

Arnold Genthe (American, born Germany, 1869-1942)
Anna Pavlowa
about 1915
Gelatin silver print
33.5 × 25.2cm (13 3/16 × 9 15/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

The Russian ballerina Anna Pavlowa (or Pavlova) so greatly admired Arnold Genthe’s work that she made the unusual decision to visit his studio, rather than have him come to her rehearsals. The resulting portrait of the prolific dancer, leaping in mid-air, is the only photograph to capture Pavlowa in free movement. Genthe regarded this print as one of the best dance photographs he ever made.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (British, born United States, 1882-1966) 'Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens)' Negative December 21, 1908; print 1913

 

Alvin Langdon Coburn (British, born United States, 1882-1966)
Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
Negative December 21, 1908; print 1913
Photogravure
20.6 × 14.8cm (8 1/8 × 5 13/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946) '[Self-Portrait]' Negative 1907; print 1930

 

Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946)
[Self-Portrait]
Negative 1907; print 1930
Gelatin silver print
24.8 × 18.4cm (9 3/4 × 7 1/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973) 'Rodin The Thinker' 1902

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Rodin – Le Penseur (The Thinker)
1902
Gelatin-carbon print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Sarah Choate Sears (American, 1858 - 1935) '[Julia Ward Howe]' about 1890

 

Sarah Choate Sears (American, 1858-1935)
[Julia Ward Howe]
about 1890
Platinum print
23.5 × 18.6cm (9 1/4 × 7 5/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Julia Ward Howe (May 27, 1819 – October 17, 1910) was an American poet and author, known for writing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and the original 1870 pacifist Mother’s Day Proclamation. She was also an advocate for abolitionism and a social activist, particularly for women’s suffrage.

 

Sarah Choate Sears (American, 1858-1935) 'John Singer Sargent' about 1890

 

Sarah Choate Sears (American, 1858-1935)
John Singer Sargent
about 1890
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Although John Singer Sargent was the most famous American portrait painter of his time, he apparently did not like to be photographed. The few photographs that exist show him at work, as he is here, sketching and puffing on a cigar. His friend Sarah Choate Sears, herself a painter of some note, drew many of her sitters for photographs from the same aristocratic milieu as Sargent did for his paintings.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910) '[Sarah Bernhardt as the Empress Theodora in Sardou's "Theodora"]' Negative 1884; print and mount about 1889

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910)
[Sarah Bernhardt as the Empress Theodora in Sardou’s “Theodora”]
Negative 1884; print and mount about 1889
Albumen silver print
14.6 × 10.5 cm (5 3/4 × 4 1/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

J. Wood (American, active New York, New York 1870s-1880s) 'L.P. Federmeyer' 1879

 

J. Wood (American, active New York, New York 1870s-1880s)
L.P. Federmeyer
1879
Albumen silver print
14.8 × 10 cm (5 13/16 × 3 15/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79) 'Ellen Terry at Age Sixteen' 1864

 

Julia Margaret Cameron (British, born India, 1815-1879)
Ellen Terry at Age Sixteen
Negative 1864; print about 1875
Carbon print
24.1cm (9 1/2 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

This image of Ellen Terry (1847-1928) is one of the few known photographs of a female celebrity by Julia Margaret Cameron. Terry, the popular child actress of the British stage, was sixteen years old when Cameron made this image. This photograph was most likely taken just after she married the eccentric painter, George Frederick Watts (1817-1904), who was thirty years her senior. They spent their honeymoon in the village of Freshwater on the Isle of Wight where Cameron resided.

Cameron’s portrait echoes Watt’s study of Terry titled Choosing (1864, National Portrait Gallery, London). As in the painting, Terry is shown in profile with her eyes closed, an ethereal beauty in a melancholic dream state. In this guise, Terry embodies the Pre-Raphaelite ideal of womanhood rather than appearing as the wild boisterous teenager she was known to be. The round (“tondo”) format of this photograph was popular among Pre-Raphaelite artists.

Cameron titled another print of this image Sadness (see 84.XZ.186.52), which may suggest the realisation of a mismatched marriage. Terry’s anxiety is plainly evident – she leans against an interior wall and tugs nervously at her necklace. The lighting is notably subdued, leaving her face shadowed in doubt. In The Story of My Life (1909), Terry recalls how demanding Watts was, calling upon her to sit for hours as a model and giving her strict orders not to speak in front of distinguished guests in his studio.

This particular version was printed eleven years after Cameron first made the portrait. In order to distribute this image commercially, the Autotype Company of London rephotographed the original negative after the damage had been repaired. The company then made new prints using the durable, non-fading carbon print process. Thus, this version is in reverse compared to Sadness. Terry’s enduring popularity is displayed by the numerous photographs taken of her over the years. Along with the two portraits by Cameron, the Getty owns three more of Terry by other photographers.

Adapted from Julian Cox. Julia Margaret Cameron, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1996), 12. ©1996 The J. Paul Getty Museum; with additions by Carolyn Peter, J. Paul Getty Museum, Department of Photographs, 2019.

 

Charles DeForest Fredricks (American, 1823-1894) '[Mlle Pepita]' 1863

 

Charles DeForest Fredricks (American, 1823-1894)
[Mlle Pepita]
1863
Albumen silver print
9 × 5.4 cm (3 9/16 × 2 1/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (French, 1819-1889) '[Rosa Bonheur]' 1861-1864

 

André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (French, 1819-1889)
[Rosa Bonheur]
1861-1864
Albumen silver print
8.4 × 5.2cm (3 5/16 × 2 1/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Rosa Bonheur, born Marie-Rosalie Bonheur (16 March 1822 – 25 May 1899), was a French artist, mostly a painter of animals (animalière) but also a sculptor, in a realist style. Her best-known paintings are Ploughing in the Nivernais, first exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1848, and now at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, and The Horse Fair (in French: Le marché aux chevaux), which was exhibited at the Salon of 1853 (finished in 1855) and is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City. Bonheur was widely considered to be the most famous female painter of the nineteenth century.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Mathew B. Brady (American, about 1823-1896) 'Walt Whitman' about 1870

 

Mathew B. Brady (American, about 1823-1896)
Walt Whitman
about 1870
Albumen silver print
14.6 x 10.3cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Mathew B. Brady (American, about 1823-1896) 'Robert E. Lee' 1865

 

Mathew B. Brady (American, about 1823-1896)
Robert E. Lee
1865
Albumen silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

John Robert Parsons (British, about 1826-1909) '[Portrait of Jane Morris (Mrs. William Morris)]' Negative July 1865; print after 1900

 

John Robert Parsons (British, about 1826-1909)
[Portrait of Jane Morris (Mrs. William Morris)]
Negative July 1865; print after 1900
Gelatin silver print
22.9 × 19.2cm (9 × 7 9/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910) 'George Sand (Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin), Writer' c. 1865

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910)
George Sand (Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin)
about 1865
Albumen silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dudevant, née Dupin, took the pseudonym George Sand in 1832. She was a successful Romantic novelist and a close friend of Nadar, and during the 1860s he photographed her frequently. Her writing was celebrated for its frequent depiction of working-class or peasant heroes. She was also a woman as renowned for her romantic liaisons as her writing; here she allowed Nadar to photograph her, devoid of coquettish charms but nevertheless a commanding presence.

This portrait is a riot of textural surfaces. The sumptuous satin of Sand’s gown and silken texture of her hair have a rich tactile presence. Her shimmering skirt melts into the velvet-draped support on which she leans, creating a visual triangle with the careful centre part of her wavy hair. The portrait details the exquisite laces, beads, and buttons of her gown, but her face, the apex of the triangle, is out of focus. Sand was apparently unable to remain perfectly still throughout the exposure, and the slight blurring of her facial features erases the unforgiving details that the years had drawn upon her.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website

 

Alexander Gardner (American, born Scotland, 1821-1882) 'President Lincoln, United States Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, near Antietam, October 4, 1862'

 

Alexander Gardner (American, born Scotland, 1821-1882)
President Lincoln, United States Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, near Antietam, October 4, 1862
1862
Albumen silver print
21.9 x 19.7cm (8 5/8 x 7 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Twenty-six thousand soldiers were killed or wounded in the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, after which Confederate General Robert E. Lee was forced to retreat to Virginia. Just two weeks after the victory, President and Commander-in-Chief Abraham Lincoln conferred with General McClernand and Allan Pinkerton, Chief of the nascent Secret Service, who had organised espionage missions behind Confederate lines.

Lincoln stands tall, front and centre in his stovepipe hat, his erect and commanding posture emphasised by the tent pole that seems to be an extension of his spine. The other men stand slightly apart in deference to their leader, in postures of allegiance with their hands covering their hearts. The reclining figure of the man at left and the shirt hanging from the tree are a reminder that, although this is a formally posed picture, Lincoln’s presence did not halt the camp’s activity, and no attempts were made to isolate him from the ordinary circumstances surrounding the continuing military conflict.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website

 

Alexander Gardner (American, born Scotland, 1821-1882) 'President Lincoln, United States Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, near Antietam, October 4, 1862' (detail)

 

Alexander Gardner (American, born Scotland, 1821-1882)
President Lincoln, United States Headquarters, Army of the Potomac, near Antietam, October 4, 1862 (detail)
1862
Albumen silver print
21.9 x 19.7cm (8 5/8 x 7 3/4 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Pierre Louis Pierson (French, 1822-1913) 'Napoleon III and the Prince Imperial' about 1859

 

Pierre Louis Pierson (French, 1822-1913)
Napoleon III and the Prince Imperial
about 1859
Albumen silver print from a wet collodion glass negative
21 × 16cm (8 1/4 × 6 5/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

The Prince Imperial, son of Napoleon III, sits strapped securely into a seat on his horse’s back, a model subject for the camera. An attendant at the left steadies the horse so that the little prince remains picture-perfect in the centre of the backdrop erected for the photograph. The horse stands upon a rug that serves as a formalising element, making the scene appear more regal. The Emperor Napoleon III himself stands off to the right in perfect profile, supervising the scene with his dog and forming a framing mirror-image of the horse and attendant on the other side.

Pierre-Louis Pierson placed his camera far enough back from the Prince to capture the entire scene and all the players, but this was not the version sold as a popular carte-de-visite. The carte-de-visite image was cropped so that only the Prince upon his horse was visible.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910) 'Alexander Dumas [père] (1802-1870) / Alexandre Dumas' 1855

 

Nadar [Gaspard Félix Tournachon] (French, 1820-1910)
Alexander Dumas [père] (1802-1870) / Alexandre Dumas
1855
Salted paper print
Image (rounded corners): 23.5 x 18.7cm (9 1/4 x 7 3/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Public domain

 

 

The writer Alexander Dumas was Nadar’s boyhood idol. Nadar’s father had published Dumas’s first novel and play, and a portrait of Dumas hung in young Nadar’s room. The son of a French revolutionary general and a black mother, Dumas arrived in Paris from the provinces in 1823, poor and barely educated. Working as a clerk, he educated himself in French history and began to write. In 1829 he met with his first success; with credits including The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, published in 1844 and 1845, respectively, his fame and popularity were assured.

Nadar was the first photographer to use photography to enhance the sitter’s reputation. Given Dumas’s popularity, this mounted edition print, signed and dedicated by him, was likely intended for sale.

Dumas is represented as a lively, vibrant man. The self-restraint of his crossed hands, resting on a chair that disappears into the shadows, seems like an attempt to contain an undercurrent of boundless energy that threatened to ruin the necessary stillness of the pose and appears to have found an outlet through Dumas’s hair. Around the time of this sitting, the prolific Dumas and Nadar were planning to collaborate on a theatrical spectacle, which was ultimately never staged.

Text from the J. Paul Getty website

 

Unknown maker (American) 'Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe' late May - early June 1849

 

Unknown maker (American)
Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe
1849
Daguerreotype
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Public domain

 

 

“A noticeable man clad in black, the fashion of the times, close-buttoned, erect, forward looking, something separate in his bearing …a beautifully poetic face.”
Basil L. Gildersleeve to Mary E. Phillips, 1915 (his childhood recollection of Poe)

.
Many of Edgar Allan Poe’s contemporaries described him as he appears in this portrait: a darkly handsome and intelligent man who possessed an unorthodox personality. Despite being acknowledged as one of America’s greatest writers of poetry and short stories, Poe’s life remains shrouded in mystery, with conflicting accounts about poverty, alcoholism, drug use, and the circumstances of his death in 1849. Like his life, Poe’s poems and short stories are infused with a sense of tragedy and mystery. Among his best-known works are: The RavenAnnabel Lee, and The Fall of the House of Usher.

This daguerreotype was made several months before Poe’s death at age 40. After his wife died two years earlier in 1847, Poe turned to two women for support and companionship. He met Annie Richmond at a poetry lecture that he gave when visiting Lowell, Massachusetts. Although she was married, they developed a deep, mutual affection. Richmond is thought to have arranged and paid for this portrait sitting. Poe is so forcibly portrayed that historians have described his appearance as disheveled, brooding, exhausted, haunted, and melancholic.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, relatively few daguerreotypes of notable poets, novelists, or painters have survived from the 1840s, and some of the best we have are by unknown makers. The art of the daguerreotype was one in which the sitter’s face usually took priority over the maker’s name, and many daguerreotypists failed to sign their works. This is the case with the Getty’s portrait of Poe.

Adapted from getty.edu, Interpretive Content Department, 2009; and Weston Naef, The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Photographs Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1995), 35. © 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum.

 

Charles Richard Meade (American, 1826-1858) 'Portrait of Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre' 1848

 

Charles Richard Meade (American, 1826-1858)
Portrait of Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre
1848
Daguerreotype, hand-coloured
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Public domain

 

 

By New Year’s Day of 1840 – little more than one year after William Henry Fox Talbot had first displayed his photogenic drawings in London and just four to five months after the first daguerreotypes had been exhibited in Paris at the Palais d’Orsay in conjunction with a series of public demonstrations of the process – Daguerre’s instruction manual had been translated into at least four languages and printed in at least twenty-one editions. In this way, his well-kept secret formula and list of materials quickly spread to the Americas and to provincial locations all over Europe. Photography became a gold rush-like phenomenon, with as much fiction attached to it as fact.

Nowhere was the daguerreotype more enthusiastically accepted than in the United States. Charles R. Meade was the proprietor of a prominent New York photographic portrait studio. He made a pilgrimage to France in 1848 to meet the founder of his profession and while there became one of the very few people to use the daguerreotype process to photograph the inventor himself.

A daguerreotype was (and is) created by coating a highly polished silver plated sheet of copper with light sensitive chemicals such as chloride of iodine. The plate is then exposed to light in the back of a camera obscura. When first removed from the camera, the image is not immediately visible. The plate must be exposed to mercury vapours to “bring out” the image. The image is then “fixed” (or “made permanent on the plate”) by washing it in a bath of hyposulfite of soda. Finally it is washed in distilled water. Each daguerreotype is a unique image; multiple prints cannot be made from the metal plate.

Adapted from Weston Naef, The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Photographs Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1995), 33, © 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum; with additions by Carolyn Peter, J. Paul Getty Museum, Department of Photographs, 2019.

 

 

The J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Friday 10 – 5.30pm
Saturday 10 – 9pm
Sunday 10 – 9pm
Monday closed

The J. Paul Getty Museum 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, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr 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.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Padlocks/People’ 1994-96

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