A yacht enters the harbour of Cette (spelt Sète since 1927) on France’s Mediterranean coast, its full sail suggesting a good wind and, by extension, a good speed; a wave crashes on the rocks in the foreground. In this striking image, Le Gray has created a virtuoso early example of photographic instantaneity. The vessel in motion and the crashing wave, frozen in this dramatic large format, constitute a remarkable achievement for the still-young medium of photography, whose practitioners, by virtue of the necessarily long exposure times still required, had so far been obliged to restrict themselves to static subjects.
This is the only marine subject by Le Gray in portrait rather than landscape format. The present print compares favorably against other known prints for the control of the tones, with good detail rendered in the sky achieving a harmonious overall balance. In other prints, the sky can be either a little too pale or too dense, suggesting a challenging negative. ‘La vague brisée’, and its companion ‘La grande vague’ are important images in the story of the camera’s potential to capture and fix fast-moving subjects.
This lot is accompanied by export license for cultural property issued by the République Française.