Gustave Le Gray, 'The Great Wave'

Gustave Le Gray, 'The Great Wave'

Gustave Le Gray (1820-84)
'The Great Wave, Sète'
1856
Albumen print
Museum no. 68:004
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The exquisite tonal quality, impressive scale and innovative exposure and printing methods of Le Gray's series of seascapes set high technical standards. They also elevated the evocative and poetic capacity of the medium of photography. Le Gray took this photograph, the most dramatic of these images, on the Mediterranean coast near Montpellier.

At the horizon, the clouds are cut off where they meet the sea. This indicates the join between the two separate negatives that Le Gray used to make this image. He would often use a different sky to complement his sea exposures. This combination of two negatives allowed the artist to achieve tonal balance between sea and sky on the final print. It gives a more truthful sense of how the eye, rather than the camera, perceives nature.