Musée d'Orsay: Art Works And Their Photographic Reproduction

Art Works And Their Photographic Reproduction


Joseph Nicéphore Niepce"The Cardinal d'Amboise", engraving by Isaac Briot© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
As soon as Daguerre's invention became known, reproducing works of art was considered a primary subject for photography. The sharpness and precision of the new invention were praised even by its fiercest opponents.

Copying works of art was a major artistic challenge for the early great photographers in their competition with other media such as engraving. As Henri Zerner recently pointed out, it was the battleground on which the future of art photography was fought. Faithful reproduction of painting and drawing was an opportunity to demonstrate the photographer's ability to understand the artist's mind and grasp and transcribe his manner.

Hippolyte BayardStill Life with Plaster Casts© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
Francis Wey praised paper photography in 1851 in the following terms: "If the artist-copyist and the engraver are knowledgeable and skilful, they will change the character of the model, and if they are not, they will fail to copy it. The only remedy for these difficulties is heliography and it is in this field that it will do wonders." (La Lumière, 23 March 1851).

The technical constraints of lighting, the difficulty of rendering the values of the painting, and the impossibility of moving the artwork further exalted their talent.

Charles Nègre   
 "La Renommée chevauchant Pégase" ["Renown Riding Pegasus"], sculpture by Antoine Coysevox, Place de la Concorde, Paris
 Albumen print from a glass negative, glued on cardboard
 H. 44.5; W. 35.4 cm
 Paris, Musée d'Orsay, gift, 1981
Charles Nègre "Renown Riding Pegasus", sculpture by Antoine Coysevox, Place de la Concorde, Paris© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Christian Jean
From the early 1850s onwards, attempts were made to launch the commercial circulation of artworks through the medium of photography. In Lille, Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard opened his photographic print shop trading reproductions of architecture and artworks intended for artists and art lovers.As early as 1853, the Goupil publishing house, specialized the production and sale of line-engravings, commercialized photographs, including some taken in Egypt by Félix Teynard.
Robert Jefferson Bingham"Lord Strafford going to the Scaffold", painting by Paul Delaroche© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
From 1853 to 1858, Goupil sold several series including the Notice sur la vie de Marc-Antoine Raimondi, illustrated with photographs by Benjamen Delessert, L'Oeuvre de Rembrandt, with photographs of the drawings made by the Bisson brothers and, the first publication devoted to a contemporary artist, L'œuvre de Paul Delaroche, published in 1858 with photographs by Robert J.Bingham.
Adolphe BraunFlorence, "Virgin and Child", Sculpture by Michelangelo© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
In 1855, Adolphe Disdéri photographed the galleries of the 1855 World Fair; the fund of the painter Edmond Lebel, recently acquired by the Musée d'Orsay, includes a set of photographs of the paintings presented at the exhibition, probably taken by Désiré Lebel, Edmond's father, who was in partnership with Disdéri. These pictures are a rare and precious testimony of the event.

As early as the 1850s, Adolphe Braun circulated numerous photographic reproductions of artworks shot in French and foreign museums. In December 1883, the company, under the name "Ad. Braun et Cie", became the first official photographer of the Musée du Louvre having finally overcome the reluctance of curators and the museum administration, after many years of uncertainty and commercial and technical struggles.

Gustave Le GrayView of the 1853 Salon© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
The exhibition Artworks and their Photographic Reproduction presents some eighty photographs from the Musée d'Orsay collection. It does not attempt to give a complete history of the photographic reproduction of art, a complex and diverse subject long neglected by art historians but explored in recent exhibitions and publications, by the Musée Goupil in particular.

Pierre-Ambroise RichebourgInterior View of the Chinese Pavilion of the Empress at Fontainebleau© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
It relates directly to the history of the Musée d'Orsay's collection, focusing on artworks photographed in museum galleries, during the annual Salons or International Exhibitions. Photographs by Talbot, Bingham, and Robert, for instance, are shown alongside Gustave Le Gray's photographs of the 1850-1851 Salon and Pierre-Ambroise Richebourg's shots of Froment-Meurice's stand at the 1849 Exposition des Produits de l'Art et de l'Industrie de 1849.The presentation includes photographs of paintings, sculptures and art objects and is meant to demonstrate the crucial role played by photography as early as 1850 in the circulation and knowledge of artworks, as well as its role in shaping the history of taste.