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Exhibitions/ Art Object

Étude de nuages, clair-obscur

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820–1884)
Albumen silver print from glass negatives
Image: 31.8 x 42.9 cm (12 1/2 x 16 7/8 in.) Frame: 55.9 x 71.1 cm (22 x 28 in.)
Credit Line:
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Estampes et Photographie, Paris
Not on view
Le Gray’s majestic marine views created an international sensation when they were first exhibited in London and Paris. At a time when camera exposures often lasted for several seconds, viewers were amazed by Le Gray’s ability to freeze the motion of breaking waves, and the perfectly backlit clouds drifting above reinforced the feeling of spontaneity. That the clouds and waves were printed from two separate negatives remained the artist’s secret during his lifetime. Although Le Gray never publicly acknowledged his method, he did leave some inadvertent clues in the pictures themselves. Here, the same dramatic cloud formation floats above two different beaches—one in Normandy, the other two along France’s Mediterranean coast.
Photographs were only subject to legal deposit arrangements in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France from 1925 onwards. However, photographers voluntarily deposited their works in the 19th century. This photograph was reproduced in Sylvie Aubenas, "Gustave Le Grey, 1820-1884," (Gallimard: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 2002), p. 269. Per an email from April 25, 2012 from the department of photographs at the BNF, this work was a bequest from Alfred Armand in 1889 to the Bibliotheque national.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop," October 10, 2012–January 27, 2013.

Fineman, Mia. Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012. no. 24, pp. 48, 211.