Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2005
Not on view
The central figure in French photography of the 1850s, Le Gray was a master of many genres including landscape and seascape, architectural photography, and portraiture. Only four nude studies by Le Gray are known, however, each in a single example. In this striking image, the photographer departed from the usual academic treatment of the nude, such as he might have learned from his years in the painting studio of Paul Delaroche, in favor of a more psychologically charged spirit. The daybed’s velvet upholstery, the tassels on the pillow, and the heavy curtain fabric have a reassuring and familiar presence, but the serpentine locks of hair evoke Medusa and hint at strangulation, while the legs and feet cross and tense in the manner of a crucifixion. Withdrawn in sleep—or is it death?—the beautiful young woman reminds one of a drowning victim, an Ophelia freshly recovered from the Seine, a theme favored by the painters and poets of Paris.
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Gustave Le Gray; [...]; (Lelièvre, Maîche, Paris, October 7, 1995, no. 43); Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York