Musée d'Orsay: Edouard Baldus View of Picquigny Station

Edouard Baldus
View of Picquigny Station

View of Picquigny Station
Edouard Baldus (1813-1889)
View of Picquigny Station
Salted paper print from a paper negative
H. 33; W. 44 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / DR

Vue de la gare de Picquigny [View of Picquigny Station]

In 1855, Queen Victoria came to France to attend the Universal Exhibition, and was escorted from Boulogne-sur-Mer to Paris by Emperor Napoleon III. It was the idea of Baron James de Rothschild, president and principal shareholder in the Chemin de fer du Nord railway company, to present her with a souvenir album to mark this visit, with images of the main stages on her train journey.

Edouard Baldus produced almost all the large-format plates in this album. He had distinguished himself as a master of architectural and landscape views while working on the "Mission Héliographique" in 1851. He was the first photographer to succeed in showing the French countryside transformed by the new iron architecture. The View of Picquigny Station, in its breadth and its lyricism, is a remarkable symbol of the architecture and landscapes of the modern times that would later attract the interest of painters, from Monet to Signac.

The photographs in the queen's album are some of the most beautiful that Baldus produced. His style had reached maturity: a classic vision, a balance between document and work of art, between pure description and the picturesque. In almost all these prints, the subject is in the middle distance, with a vast, empty foreground in the lower part of the image. This slight step back produces a tranquil and contemplative atmosphere. The foreground is also used to attract the spectator and direct attention to the principle motif. Here, the smooth, narrow railway lines draw the eye to the station buildings.

The album presented to Queen Victoria is now kept at Windsor Castle. A less lavish Chemin de fer du Nord album would have been distributed to the company's shareholders, but this image comes from a third type of album that might have belonged to the Emperor, even though another imperial copy is kept in the Musée du Château de Compiègne.

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