Marsh Weeds

Peter Henry Emerson
Marsh Weeds
héliogravure sur papier Japon
H. 10,0 ; L. 14,3 cm.
Achat, 1979
© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Alexis Brandt
Peter Henry Emerson (1856 - 1936)

This photograph was published in 1895 in the Marsh Leaves album. With its restricted depth of field, very high horizon and above all the marsh grasses poking up through the snow in a pattern strongly reminiscent the motifs in Japanese painting, Marsh Weeds is indisputably one of Peter Henry Emerson's most Japanese influenced works. In this respect it can be compared to The Snow Garden, another winter landscape from the same work.
Marsh Leaves, Emerson's last album and his masterpiece, is the most radical demonstration of how this photographer's art had developed, moving from an initial Naturalist approach to a very refined graphic style. Nevertheless, the Japanese influence was already evident in his work in photographs such as The Snowy Marshlands published in 1893 in the collection On English Lagoons. Furthermore, after 1886, Emerson revealed a certain fondness for flat compositions and graphic effects, most notably in A Rushy Shore, one of the plates in his first album, Life and Landscape of the Norfolk Broads. We should certainly acknowledge the influence of the French Impressionists here, in particular of Monet, a great collector of prints, and of the British-based painter Whistler whom Emerson knew personally.
In 1890, five years before taking this photograph, Emerson wrote in one of his theoretical essays that he no longer believed that photography was an art form. Coming from a man who had strongly influenced the Pictorialists, this was an astonishing declaration. However, when looking at a work as accomplished as Marsh Weeds, we might wonder if Emerson genuinely subscribed to this premise.

Artwork not currently exhibited in the museum
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