Eugène Cuvelier (French, 18371900)
Salted paper print from paper negative; 10 x 13 1/4 in. (25.4 x 33.7 cm)
Nineteenth–Century Photography Fund, 2007 (2007.283)
Blessed with talent, early technical training in photography from his father, and the friendly mentoring of the naturalist painters Camille Corot, Henri Rousseau, and Charles-François Daubigny, Eugène Cuvelier created some of the most lyrical and sensitive of all nineteenth-century landscape photographs. A frequent visitor to Barbizon (where he married the innkeeper's daughter), Cuvelier explored the village streets, nearby Fontainebleau Forest, and area landmarks with his tripod and camera, just as his painter friends did with their easels and paint boxes. Because photography was a personal and aesthetic pursuit rather than a commercial undertaking, Cuvelier made relatively few prints from each negative. This is the only known example of Parc de Courances.
The Château de Courances was a grand seventeenth-century home with famous gardens six miles west of Barbizon that had been abandoned for several decades by the time Cuvelier made this photograph. The painter Jules Le Coeur, who visited in 1866 with Renoir and Sisley, likened its gradual decay to "a sugar cube left in a humid place." Indeed, in the cant of an aging, ivy-covered tree and the tangled vegetation at water's edge, Cuvelier has captured nature's inevitable and picturesque reclaiming of a landscape and canal that were once geometrically designed and perfectly manicured.