This image merges a primitive-even brutal-directness with an astute attention to the subtlety of light. The heaviness of the twelfth-century portal is relieved by sunlight glancing along the concentric arches and picking out the rhythmic scalloped motif of the door frame, while the entrance itself remains plunged in deep and mysterious shadow.
This photograph is among the few surviving prints made by Le Gray during his travels through central and southwestern France in the summer of 1851 with Auguste Mestral. The Church of Saint-Jacques at Aubeterre (70 km northeast of Bordeaux) figured on Mestral's list of assigned sites for the Missions Héliographiques, and a perspective view of the full facade survives among Mestral's Missions negatives at the Musée d'Orsay. However, stylistic features seem to confirm the blind stamp in assigning this image to Le Gray, who presented several other portals in a similar manner in 1851. The print is believed to be unique; no negative for it survives at the Musée d'Orsay.
Inscription: Photographer's blind stamp on print, recto LR corner: "GUSTAVE// LEGRAY"; inscribed in ink on mount, recto LC below print: "Portail milieu d'Aubeterre."
Sir Henry James (1803-1877); Christie's, London, 9 Nov. 1989, lot #282; Werner Bokelberg, Hamburg; Hans P. Kraus, Jr.