Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel and Rogers Fund, 1996
Not on view
Le Gray, the most important early French photographer, is best known for his extremely popular and widely distributed seascapes of the mid- to late 1850s. He was also a gifted photographer of architecture and was one of five photographers commissioned by the French government in 1851 to document the nation's ancient and medieval monuments. Although Le Gray made this picture at roughly that time, it seems to have been motivated by his own interest in one of the best preserved Gothic structures in Paris, the Hôtel de Cluny, which had been made into a museum of medieval art less than a decade earlier. That passion for the Gothic past, much in vogue at mid-century, also found expression in Le Gray's pictorial strategy--framing the late Gothic entrance with mysteriously poetic swaths of deep shadow and a delicate tracery of branches.