Sunday, June 30, 2013


Above, Tree, forest of Fontainebleau,  by Gustave Le Gray, (Fr. 1820 - 1884).  12 x 14 inch albumenized salted paper print.  Part of MFAH  Arts of Europe  collection.

Gustave Le Gray was a painter-turned-photographer most noted for his landscape portraits of the forest of Fontainebleau in France.  Capturing the elegantly twisted tree branches was his primary focus, but the wagon which he used to transport his photographic equipment, appears in the background as a testament to his own work.  It also alludes to the plein-air movement where photographers left their studios and went out into the countryside to work.

Le Gray's work appeared in various genres from portraits to photos of Parisian city life.  He was extremely influential among 19th century photographers due to the striking quality of his photos and also in part to his innovations in the field of photography.  He developed a process of applying a thin film of wax on the paper negative before it was sensitized, thereby decreasing the exposure time and enhancing the amount of detail of the final images.  This resulted in photos with a wider range of values.

Fontainebleau was originally a hunting preserve and later turned into a public park.  Artists of the time favored the forest because of the rich and varied terrain and the ease of access from  Paris.  Le gray made a number of photo portraits of single trees in the forest, but none were named.  It is believed the tree in the painting above is one named by other artists of the time as La Reine Blanche,  (Snow White).

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