[Standing Female Nude]


Not on view

The original impulse behind these boldly ambitious figure studies may have been to aid a painter or sculptor, but they are nonetheless without parallel in the early history of photography. Enlarged to the size of drawn académies—drawings of the live model that were a standard part of art instruction in France—their scale alone sets them apart from the more modest productions of Vallou de Villeneuve, Durieu, and other artists of the 1850s. More unusually, the images are interrupted by a surface pattern that gives the impression that the photographs are printed on finely pleated silk rather than paper—likely the result of a technical error. Instead of wiping clean his glass-plate negatives and starting over as virtually all other photographers would have done, this artist recognized that the pattern created a veil that, like time or memory, removed the images from their merely utilitarian purpose and elevated them from the mundane to the realm of art.
Just as the eye and mind may be pleasantly torn between bravura brushwork and the ostensible subject of a painting, there is a tension here between the beauty of the subject—the elegant female draped in gossamer; the strict profile and geometric setting of the male—and the visible traces of their creation, such as the flowing surface pattern and the strong vignetting of the female, which suggests a view spied through a peephole.

[Standing Female Nude], Unknown (French), Salted paper print from collodion glass negative

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