Saint-Maclou, Rouen

Artist: Edmond Bacot (French, 1814–1875)

Date: 1852–54

Medium: Salted paper print from glass negative

Dimensions: 34.4 x 25.6 cm (13 9/16 x 10 1/16 in.)

Classification: Photographs

Credit Line: Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1995

Accession Number: 1995.96.10


In December 1852, Edmond Bacot, a man of independent means living in Caen, traveled to the Isle of Jersey with resources gathered by the republicans of Caen and Bayeux for Victor Hugo and the exile community. He also carried with him photographs of the Gothic monuments of Normandy, pictures that Hugo described as "marvels" and that prompted him to write to Bacot, "I congratulate the sun for having a collaborator such as you." In the year that followed, Bacot taught photography to Hugo's son Charles and sent additional photographs, which Charles ultimately had bound. The album containing this print and twenty-seven others by Bacot from around 1853, all with elaborately calligraphed titles, is thought to be the volume assembled from photographs sent to the exiled writer and his family.

By photographing in strong sunlight and with a long lens, Bacot transformed the flamboyant Gothic facade of the Church of Saint-Maclou into patches of deep shadow and patterns of light playing on Gothic tracery. Hugo's love of such photographs surely stemmed from a recognition that they articulated a highly romanticized view of the medieval—a view deeply colored by Hugo's own writings and poetic drawings of Gothic architecture.