Musée d'Orsay: Gustave Le Gray Seascape, study of clouds

Gustave Le Gray
Seascape, study of clouds

Seascape, study of clouds
Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884)
Seascape, study of clouds
Between 1856 and 1857
Albumen print from a collodion glass negative
H. 32; W. 39 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Marine, étude de nuages [Seascape, study of clouds]

"It was about time that art came to join in". With these words Nadar welcomed Gustave Le Gray's entry into photography in My Life as a Photographer, a work that appeared in 1900. In fact, Le Gray was already producing artistic works with pure landscapes, views of the Forest of Fontainebleau around 1855 and seascapes from 1856 to 1857. He banished all narrative from these works, and endowed them with a universal dimension.

This seascape, which is rather a study of a wonderfully calm sky, is certainly one of the most impressive and most poetic of all Le Gray's studies. He was the first to work on such a large scale, and the first to achieve such consummate skill with the wet collodion process developed in 1851. This technique was suitable for conveying both the compact movement of the waves and the light of the sky, but these two elements needed different exposure times. So, Le Gray produced a veritable technical tour de force by combining two negatives, one for the clouds, the other for the sea.
We know of around twenty seascapes by Le Gray, which were highly acclaimed in London and then in Paris. They were referred to in the Revue Photographique of 1859 as "enchanted paintings" and drew the comment "There is nothing more beautiful than these seascapes. We have seen talented painters admiring these photographs".

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