Gustave le Gray, 'Seascape'

Gustave le Gray, 'Seascape'

Gustave le Gray (1820-82)
Normandy, France
Albumen print from a collodion-on-glas negative
Width 41.4cm x heigth 32.6 cm
Museum no. 67.999

The Photograph

The photograph is created from two negatives, joined along the horizon line. In order that the sky be fully exposed, the sea region would have been under-exposed. Therefore le Gray captured the optimum detail of both sea and sky by producing two negatives, each of which concentrated on one of the two elements. The combined negatives create an intense and calm image which is heightened by the mellow colouring of the toned print.

This photograph was exhibited in London and Manchester in 1857 and was ecstatically received by critics. The print was acquired by Chauncey Hare Townshend, a connoisseur of early photography and a patron of the arts. The print was bequeathed to the South Kensington Museum, along with other highly significant early photographs, at Townshend's death in 1868.

The Photographer

Gustave le Gray was born in Villiers-le-Bel in 1820. He studied painting under Delaroche in Paris from 1839, for four years.

In 1843, having returned to Paris, he experimented with photographic techniques, firstly the daguerreotype and then the paper negative.

In 1851, he became one of the founding members of the French photographic society, the Société Héliographique, whose members included Henri Le Secq and Charles Nègre.

He introduced the wax-paper negative (whereby the negative was waxed before exposure) and introduced his process to the Académie des Sciences in the spring of 1851.During the same year he produced a series of images of the Fôret de Fontainebleau using the waxed paper negative.

Le Gray also used the wet collodion negative process and produced magnificent seascapes and maritime views during the mid to late 1850s using this technique. In 1857 he was commissioned to photograph Napoleon III's new military camp east of Paris. He travelled throughout the Mediterranean in 1860 with Alexandre Dumas taking images of the architecture of, for example, Greece, Beirut and Lisbon. By 1864 he had settled in Cairo, working in the court of Ismail Pasha, Viceroy of Egypt. He died in Egypt in 1882.


This photograph can be found in Print Room Box 13.