Musée d'Orsay: Gustave Le Gray View of the 1853 Salon

Gustave Le Gray
View of the 1853 Salon

View of the 1853 Salon
Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884)
View of the 1853 Salon
Salted paper print glued on cardboard
H. 25.2; W. 33.4 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Vue du Salon de 1853 [View of the 1853 Salon]

This photograph gives an insight into early photography at the Salons in France. In 1852, Gustave Le Gray took several photographs at the exhibition organised in a temporary location at the Palais Royal. The Musée d'Orsay has an album of nine salted paper prints from this first series.
The following year, Le Gray again took some shots of the Salon. These images are close to those taken in 1852 in both approach and technique. They reveal Le Gray's desire to convey a feeling of the space and the vast proportions of the building where the Salon was held, rather than offering a faithful reproduction of the works on show. In the half-light of this image, one can barely make out Courbet's The Wrestlers or The Bathers, or even the panels destined to decorate Chenavard's pantheon.

For what occasion were these photographs taken? Was it an official or a private commission? Was it an initiative by the photographer who, for the only time in his brief career as a painter, had a painting on display at the Salon that year?
Whatever the case, these images represent a photographic genre still in its infancy. This practice did not become fully established until the 1855 Salon with the images of Disdéri, Bingham and Thurston Thompson. Pierre-Ambroise Richebourg, renowned for his photographs of interiors, found the key to success in 1857 - framing the works directly from the front - a technique he was to use again in 1861, before other photographers finally adopted it. It is true that, for strictly documentary purposes, the images produced were much clearer and well defined, but they lacked the poetry of Le Gray's photographs.

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