Temple of Vesta and Fountain, Piazza Bocca della Verita
Attributed to Firmin-Eugène Le Dien (French, 1817–1865)
in collaboration with Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820–1884)
Salted paper print from paper negative
23.7 x 19 cm (9 5/16 x 7 1/2 in. )
The Rubel Collection, Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1997
Not on view
Inscription: Inscribed in the negative: "45"
William Rubel; [Hans P. Kraus, Jr. Fine Photography, New York]
Daniel, Malcolm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin: Inventing a New Art: Early Photographs from the Rubel Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art 56, no. 4 (Spring 1999). p. 54.
This print was formerly attributed to the circle of Giacomo Caneva, but the negative number "45" printed in the image is written in the same distinctive hand as the numbers in many other prints of Italian subjects that also bear a wet-stamp reading "Le Dien et Gustave Le Gray." When this stamp first came to public attention in 1990, prints that had been given to Giacomo Caneva were re-attributed to Firmin-Eugène Le Dien and Gustave Le Gray.
Le Dien was a law clerk and magistrate who came from a powerful family of monarchist landowners. He learned the paper negative process as a student of Gustave Le Gray, and then embarked upon a long journey through Italy in 1852. According to the evidence in the pictures produced during that journey and their corresponding negative numbers, Le Dien produced a large number of paper negatives in southern Italy that can be divided into four series (the numbers start over four times): Rome, the Roman campagna, Pompeii, and Naples. When he returned to Paris in late 1853 or early 1854, it is likely that he visited Le Gray to have his negatives printed. The inclusion of both of their names in the stamp suggests that they each played a role in the production of the photographs, but it is still unclear what each photographer's contribution was. Perhaps Le Dien asked Le Gray to provide prints for his own personal use in exchange for granting him the rights to market certain images.
To further complicate the matter, two more prints recently surfaced with mounts bearing the following printed credits: "L'Italie Photographiée par Le Dien et Gustave Le Gray" and "Photographie de G. Le Gray. 7 Chemin de Ronde de la Barrière de Clichy." These stamps suggest that Le Gray had, or intended to have a more important role in producing the photographs. Taken as literal translations, the first credit seems to dictate a larger project, possibly an album ("Italy photographed by Le Dien and Gustave Le Gray") which may never have come to fruition. It is possible that this credit indicates Le Gray's intention to include prints from negatives that he produced himself in Italy. The second credit may refer directly to Le Gray's production of the particular print, here referred to as the "Photographie." In any case, these pieces of evidence resurrected another talented student of Le Gray, Eugène-Firmin Le Dien, and also pointed to Le Gray's various dominant roles in mid-nineteenth century photography, as photographer, teacher, printer, agent, and publisher.