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Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884)
Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884)

Bateaux quittant le port du Havre (navires de la flotte de Napoleon III), 1856-1857

Details
Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884)
Bateaux quittant le port du Havre (navires de la flotte de Napoleon III), 1856-1857
albumen print from wet collodion glass negative mounted on original board
facsimile signature in red ink (recto)
image/sheet: 12 1/4 x 16 in. (31 x 40.5 cm.)
mount: 17 x 24 3/4 in. (43.5 x 62.7 cm.)
Provenance
Charles Denis Labrousse (1828-1898), Paris;
ROUILLAC, Vendôme, France, June 18, 2011, lot 32.
Literature
Eugenia Parry Janis, The Photography of Gustave Le Gray, The Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1987, pl. 3, p. 63.
Pierre Apraxine et al., Une passion française – photographies de la collection Roger Thérond, Filipacchi, Paris, 1999, pp. 206-207 (erroneously titled).
Ken Jacobson, The Lovely Sea View – A study of the marine photographs published by Gustave Le Gray, 1856-1858, Ken & Jenny Jacobson, Petches Bridge, 2001, pl. 7, p. 39, and note 76, p. 54.
Sylvie Aubenas, Gustave Le Gray 1820-1884, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2002, pl. 272-273, pp. 236-237, and cat. no. 125, p. 365 (the Thérond collection print).

Lot Essay

A masterful study from his celebrated series of marine subjects, the present image of vessels leaving harbour has been the focus of detailed research by British-based American historian Ken Jacobson. In note 76 to his 2001 publication, The Lovely Sea View – A study of the marine photographs published by Gustave Le Gray, 1856-1858, Jacobson establishes definitively both the location of the scene and the character of the vessels, settling earlier misunderstandings about this and other studies of sailing vessels. Indeed, Jacobson is acknowledged for this research by Sylvie Aubenas in her monograph published the following year (note to cat. no. 125). The view was made in the port of Le Havre. Contrary to previous assumptions, these are not naval vessels. The two brigantines closest to the camera have painted ports, but not actual gun ports. The deception of such painted ports, indistinguishable from a distance from gun ports, served as a preliminary deterrent to pirates.

Jacobson also lists the known marine subjects, reaching a total of forty-three. About half of these focus principally on ships, notably the August 1858 series showing the British and French naval fleets at Cherbourg. This is not a large number, and the present, exceptionally rich print is among the rarest. It is also among the most impressive, for the dynamism and composition of its subject and for the fine rendering of the contre-jour light. Sylvie Aubenas draws attention to the remarkable parallel with a painting from 1834-35 by Caspar David Friedrich, ‘The three ages of man’, in which the three ages are illustrated by foreground figures, but the picture dominated by the line of vessels sailing into a sunset, suggesting the flow of destiny and of life itself. While there is no suggestion that Le Gray had so specific a reference in mind, the comparison serves to remind us of his formation as an artist and of his determination to align the art of photography with a noble painterly tradition.

This lot is accompanied by export license for cultural property issued by the République Française.

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