Musée d'Orsay: Studies after nature: the collection of the painter and engraver Théophile Chauvel

Studies after nature: the collection of the painter and engraver Théophile Chauvel


AnonymousTwo Peasant Women © Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
Very few collections of photographs put together by artists such as Théophile Chauvel (1831-1909), have come down to us almost completely intact. Although a landscape painter of the Barbizon school, Chauvel was, nonetheless, quite in step with the times as regards photography. From the 1850s, there were many artists, who, when they were not practising the medium themselves, turned to photographic models created specifically for them and known as "studies after nature".
Representative of what was available in the studios of Paris in the 1860s and 1870s, the Chauvel collection demonstrates the quality and diversity of this photographic production. It is also a measure of the role these photographs played in the spread of contemporary artistic trends, particularly the Barbizon school.

Used as aide-mémoires in place of sketches from life, these photographs of models in costumes, fauna, flora and rocks, were the work of photographers who, whether famous or unknown, were imbued with the pictorial model. As the inspiration in these images quite often went beyond their initial descriptive intention, a collection like this can seem like a virtual reconstruction of the world from the painter's point of view.
Willing to take on the role of the "humble servant" of the arts that Baudelaire ascribed to the medium, the study after nature was very much at the centre of photography's ambiguous relationship with painting. Based on its practices and conventions, and, in turn, providing a model for artists in search of realism, these studies found an area of formal experimentation that would contribute to the birth of a truly photographic idiom.


Thomas Galifot, curator at the Musée d'Orsay

7 May - 8 November 2010
Musée d'Orsay
Salle 21

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