In spite of Aubry's tenacity, the lack of State support, the reluctance of teachers and practitioners to abandon traditional methods, and, more generally, the art world's contempt for this medium would only contribute further to this failure. A reticence to establish himself in the world of photography – evident, in that, all his life, he described himself as a designer – as well as the complexity of his designs, which were not easily adapted to the stylised decoration of cheaper products, were all part of what was, all in all, only a relative failure: Aubry managed to keep his business going until the 1870s, with clients that included French and overseas drawing schools, textile factories in Mulhouse, the American company Tiffany, and the prestigious Gobelins Manufactory. The latter's 52 most beautiful prints, on permanent loan from the Mobilier National (French National Furniture Depository), are exhibited here.
Turning to photography, "the pencil of nature", to present nature as a model of itself, Aubry went on, around 1864, to create a collection that soon comprised some 200 photographs. There was a variety of images that combined plants and flowers with the traditional still life elements, and above all, arrangements of leaves, flowers and fruits, whose spontaneous freshness conceals the fact that they were in fact very carefully considered: the preparation time for these large format collodion plates and their exposure time (around 45 minutes) meant that it could not be otherwise. Using a technique of his own to make them more photogenic, the plants were often dipped in plaster both to enhance the three dimensional aspect and to get around the difficulty of the negative's acute sensitivity to the colour green. Drawing out harmony and rhythm in skilful contrasts of form and texture, the prints reproduce the wealth of detail achieved through a combination of his mastery of the glass negative and use of light, with the depth of tone and the tactile sensuality that albumen paper offers.