The Great Wave, Sète

The Great Wave, Sète


Gustave Le Gray

French, 1820–1884

The Great Wave, Sète

Albumen silver print
Image: 13 3/4 × 16 7/16 in. (34.9 × 41.7 cm)
Mount: 17 1/8 × 19 1/2 in. (43.5 × 49.5 cm)
Matted: 22 × 28 × 1/8 in. (55.9 × 71.1 × 0.3 cm)
Gift of Eastman Kodak Company, ex-collection Gabriel Cromer
Inscriptions Inscribed on mount in pencil, recto, TL: 1568 - 10 f [possibly price in francs] - G. Le Gray photogr de l'Empereur
Stamped signature on image in red ink, recto, BR: Gustave Le Gray
Blind stamp on mount, recto, BC: Gustave Le Gray a Paris \ Photographe De L'Empereur [surrounding imperial crest]

Stamped in blue ink, verso, LC and RC: 403
Stamped in black ink, verso, BR: Eastman Historical \ Photographic Collection \ Cromer Collection \ 403
TextTrained as a painter under Paul Delaroche (1797–1856), Gustave Le Gray devoted himself to photography by 1847. He was a technical innovator, introducing the waxed-paper negative (which resulted in a clearer image than a typical paper negative) in 1850, and a member of the Missions Héliographiques, instituted by the French government to document the country’s historical buildings and monuments. Among his many important contributions to nineteenth-century photography were his three treatises, in which he declared his firm belief in the artistic potential of the photographic medium: “It is my deepest wish that photography, instead of falling within the domain of industry, of commerce, will be included among the arts.” (1852)

To that end, in 1855 he opened an extravagant photography studio on the Boulevard des Capucines, where he produced portraits for well-heeled clients and created ambitious landscapes such as this one. Because photographic emulsions at the time were not equally sensitive to all colors of light, Le Gray exposed two different negatives—one for the sea and land and one for the sky—and printed them on the same sheet of photographic paper. The result was a dramatic image that impressed Le Gray’s contemporaries not only as a technical triumph but also as an extraordinary aesthetic achievement.

Lisa Hostetler, Ph.D.
Curator in Charge, Department of Photography
Label for A History of Photography [Rotation 1]
May 9–September 28, 2014
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