Anonymous
A Game of Chess

A Game of Chess
Anonymous
A Game of Chess
Circa 1850
Daguerreotype
H. 10.5; W. 16 cm
© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

Une partie d'échecs [A Game of Chess]


The scene shown here is in no way a candid shot. Carefully composed for the camera, it evokes genre scenes in painting or one of the games that amused the bourgeoisie in the nineteenth century, the tableaux vivants and playlets in which they exercised their talents in acting and disguise.
The exchange of glances among the three men has been studied with finesse. It introduces a lively, truthful note seldom achieved in a daguerreotype because of the long exposure time. The austere background, free of the conventional paraphernalia often used by studio photographers, focuses attention on the scene and enhances its pictorial nature.

The subject, composition and dimensions of this anonymous daguerreotype suppose a talented, inventive photographer with remarkable mastery of the technique. Several prestigious names have been tentatively put forward, among them Olympe Aguado, an excellent amateur photographer who was taught by Gustave Le Gray. It has even been suggested that the bearded fellow in the middle might be the photographer Henri Le Secq, but that now seems highly unlikely.
Further research will perhaps one day reveal who made this original plate or identify the models.


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