Musée d'Orsay: Jean-Charles Langlois The Malakoff Tower

Jean-Charles Langlois
The Malakoff Tower

Malakoff tower
Colonel Jean-Charles Langlois (1789-1870), Léon Eugène Mehedin (1828-1905), Frédéric Martens (1809-1875)
Malakoff tower
Albumen salted paper print from a paper negative, retouched
H. 33.8; W. 32 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Tour Malakoff [The Malakoff Tower]

Napoleon III, captivated by Fenton's photographs shown at the 1855 Universal Exhibition held in Paris, decided he would send a team to the Crimea. The team of two, Jean-Charles Langlois, a career soldier and historical painter, and a young photographer, Léon Eugène Méhédin, arrived there in mid November 1855.

Langlois specialised in panoramas celebrating great French military victories. Usually he produced preparatory sketches, but this time he was hoping to replace them with photographs taken on the spot. It would be tempting to assume that the final result would have more veracity... but it was not that simple.
In fact, the pictures were taken in difficult conditions, in a race against time with the demolition crews, as the two men had arrived after the siege of Sebastapol had ended. The negatives, brought back to Paris in June 1856, were later developed by Frédéric Martens, Napoleon III's photographer.

The Musée d'Orsay has the complete set of the fourteen prints making up the panorama of shots from the Malakoff Tower, the town's key defensive position. But Langlois and Méhédin's work was not limited to views for the panorama as shown by this photo of the Malakoff Tower, a symbolic place in the conflict.

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