Brig on the Water

Artist: Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820–1884)

Date: 1856

Medium: Albumen silver print from glass negative

Dimensions: 32.1 x 40.5 cm (12 5/8 x 15 15/16 in. )

Classification: Photographs

Credit Line: Gift of A. Hyatt Mayor, 1976

Accession Number: 1976.645.1


In later seascapes such as The Great Wave (1857), Le Gray would famously resolve the problem of capturing both ocean and clouds by printing his seascapes from two negatives-one exposed properly for the shore and sea, the second for the sky. This first essay, however, was made with a single negative and succeeded by taking advantage of the reflective qualities of sea, as opposed to land, and by suggesting the effects of twilight or moonlight rather than bright daylight. Brig on the Water was among the most famous and widely distributed photographs of the nineteenth century, enjoying enormous success in England as well as in France. A London printseller's advertisement in The Times in November 1856 made the incredible claim of "800 copies subscribed for in two months."