Charles Nègre
The Vampire

The Vampire
Charles Nègre (1820-1880)
The Vampire
1853
Salted paper print from a dry waxed paper negative
H. 32,5; W. 23 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay)

The Vampire


It was the great French collector, André Jammes, who chose to call this photograph The Vampire, in an analogy with a famous engraving by the painter Charles Méryon. In it we can see the famous gargoyle of Notre-Dame de Paris, designed by Viollet-le-Duc, which in fact evokes a fantasy creature, a vampire having elements of a woman and a dog.
The character posing in a top hat behind the sculpture as it looks out across the city rooftops is Henri Le Secq, another leading photographer of the time. In choosing to have his friend pose like this, at the top of the north tower of Notre-Dame, Nègre seems to hint at their two common interests. There is, on the one hand, a shared interest in Gothic architecture, a subject to which both devoted a number of photographs, and on the other, their love for modern Paris, a city they were among the first to photograph.

Charles Nègre did not exhibit The Vampire in his lifetime. But he put it up for sale with the dealer Goupil where the strength and richness of this image immediately caught the imagination of photographers, engravers and caricaturists. The remarkable structure of the composition certainly explains in part its power to fascinate. Thus we are struck by the verticality of the wall, the diagonal of the balcony, the clarity with which the mouldings and sculptures stand out against the background, in particular on the left hand side. In the distance Paris spreads out before him, and Le Secq seems to be making a Rastignac-style challenge: "It's between you and me now, Paris!"


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