The first viable photographic processes were announced in 1839. Within a very short time, the new medium was attracting considerable public curiosity and the first professional and committed amateur practitioners were exploring the fledgling technology’s artistic and commercial potential.
By the 1850s, ambitious photographers were setting high standards for what might be achieved through camera picture-making, championing photography as a significant new art. Foremost among these visionary pioneers was the French painter turned photographer Gustave Le Gray.
Among his most admired subjects are his magnificent sea and sky images. Bold in scale and in concept, Le Gray’s ‘marines’ were technical and aesthetic triumphs. He understood the need to capture extreme variations of tone and so made separate negatives for sea and sky.
The seamless resulting prints appear to glow and sparkle — and Le Gray’s sensitivity to his subject is every bit as inspiring as that of his painter peers. A superb print of Le Gray’s from 1857, Ciel chargé, featured in our November Photographs sale in Paris — and I was thrilled to act as auctioneer and knock down the hammer at €217,500, a price well above its high estimate as the most expensive lot in the sale.