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The Mediterranean Sea by Gustave Le Gray

Published on , by Claire Papon

A group of beautiful old photographs from an estate in Touraine, one of the traditional departments of France, will be auctioned off, starting with proofs by Gustave Le __TexteRechercheEnGrasGrayTexteRechercheEnGras__.

Gustave Le Gray (1820–1884), La Mer Méditerranée à Cette Sète (The Mediterranean... The Mediterranean Sea by Gustave Le Gray

Gustave Le Gray (1820–1884), La Mer Méditerranée à Cette [Sète] (The Mediterranean Sea at Cette [Sète]), 1857, albumin print, red signature stamp and dry stamp on the mount, label with the title, 32.1 x 41.7 cm/12.64 x 16.42 in.
Estimate: €15,000/20,000

Photography pioneer Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884) was one of the first—if not the first—to treat the new medium as an art form. His light and framing have the sensibility of a genuine artist. This should come as no surprise: in 1842 Le Gray trained as a painter in Paul Delaroche’s Paris Beaux-Arts studio. He followed in his teacher’s footsteps by traveling to Italy but quickly embraced photography, which particularly attracted him because he was passionate about chemistry. By the early 1850s Le Gray had developed two trailblazing techniques that paved the way for his success: the wet collodion process to produce negatives on glass plates and the negative on waxed paper.

Le Gray’s earliest paper prints quickly drew notice for their beauty. Alongside official commissions, he began working on more personal subjects including portraits, landscapes and, especially, an incredible series of seascapes that allowed him to give the full measure of his talent. Between 1856 and 1858 he photographed the coasts of Normandy, the Mediterranean and Brittany. The faster, more sensitive wet collodion process allowed him to reproduce the dramatic effects of light on water. It also shortened exposure times but did not allow the sky and sea to come out sharply at the same time. To get around the problem, Le Gray superimposed two separate negatives to obtain a perfect print.

This series of seascapes marked the climax of Le Gray’s career. He had started out by making photographs of the forest of Fontainebleau, including the c.1856 Le Chêne creux, Fontainebleau (The Hollow Oak, Fontainebleau), a 31.8 x 41.2 cm/31.8 x 41.2 in. albumin print estimated €15,000/20,000. It perfectly reflects the modern pictorial experiments of the time.

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