La Mer de Glace

Léon Gimpel
La Mer de Glace
en 1911
autochrome
H. 18,0 ; L. 24,0 cm.
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski
Léon Gimpel (1873 - 1948)

In 1904, the Lumière brothers developed the first photographic process for reproducing colour: the autochrome. They thought of using tiny grains of potato starch dyed with one of the three primary colours—blue, yellow and violet—as a filter. But the filters lengthened exposure time considerably and for several years the technique was restricted to inanimate subjects.
As soon as details of the process were published in L'Illustration, Léon Gimpel, an inventive photo reporter working for the magazine, sought to meet the inventors and initiated a long correspondence with them. He eventually produced remarkable autochromes himself and strove to perfect the process.
In the course of a stay in the Alps in 1907, Gimpel noticed that the brightness of the ice made it a highly photogenic subject for colour. Black and white "failed to catch these superb blue tones [...] and the shimmering of the ice's millions of facets."
This view is part of a series made in 1911. It is extraordinarily precise for an autochrome. Gimpel has also demonstrated his great skill in spatial composition, already evident in his black and white photographs.

Artwork not currently exhibited in the museum