Landscapes (and a Seascape)

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New York – Landscapes (and a Seascape), an exhibition of work by early masters of photography, is on view at Hans P. Kraus Jr. Fine Photographs from September 19 through November 17, 2017. The exhibition presents landscapes from 1844 to 1914 by William Henry Fox Talbot, Sir John Herschel, Henri Le Secq, Joseph, vicomte Vigier, Frederick H. Evans and Gustave Le Gray – who is represented by both a landscape and the only seascape in the exhibition – among others.

William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) created his book Sun Pictures in Scotland in 1845 as a tribute to Sir Walter Scott and to evoke the mysterious beauty of Scott's romantic poem, The Lady of the Lake. Confronted with a wild and unspoiled landscape, and at the peak of his confidence as a photographic artist, Talbot responded by taking several of his finest photographs among which is Loch Katrine, from 1844. In this beautifully composed and picturesque salt print, Talbot exploited the relatively long exposure time of the calotype to smooth the water within a frame of trees.

The camera lucida, literally "a chamber of light," is an optical device patented as a drawing aid at the beginning of the 19th century. The instrument's tiny prism allows the draughtsman to see a virtual image of a scene as if projected so that it may be drawn on a piece of paper. While the camera lucida so frustrated Fox Talbot in Italy in 1833 that he invented the art of photography, it was used to great purpose by his friend and supporter Sir John Herschel (1792-1872), who throughout his life used the camera lucida to record cities and landscapes in England and on the Continent. A skilled draughtsman, Herschel's artistic talents enabled him to create beautiful and precise camera lucida pencil drawings, among which is his 1821 The Lake of Brienz from Iseltwald.

Among the French photographers in the exhibition, Joseph, vicomte Vigier (1821-1894) produced a series of photographs of the Pyrenees in the summer of 1853, considered to be among the most glorious photographs made during the early years of photography. Bagneres de Luchon, a magnificent salt print, evokes the sublime by portraying the irregularity and vastness of nature's myriad forms. His ambitious views of the Pyrenees earned unanimous praise from his contemporaries as proof of the universal and timeless language of photography. A newly discovered photograph by Vigier of the magnificent grounds of the Vigier family home, Chateau de Grand-Vaux, Savigny sur Orge, from 1855, is also on display.

Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884) trained as a painter in the studio of Paul Delaroche and exhibited in the Paris Salon. By the late 1840s Le Gray had become an innovator of photographic processes, developing the waxed paper negative around 1848. Saturating the paper with beeswax and light-sensitive chemicals made the image sharper than that resulting from the paper negative process devised by Fox Talbot in the 1830s and 1840s. The waxed paper of Le Gray's process could be prepared in advance and developed days after exposure allowing photographers to minimize the quantity of equipment in the field. Le Gray influenced a generation of 19th century photographers including Charles Nègre, J. B. Greene, vicomte Vigier, Henri Le Secq, and Roger Fenton.

Le Gray's own exceptional vision is reflected in his landscapes and seascapes. His poetic photographs taken in the forest of Fontainebleau are masterpieces of light and shadow. The exhibition includes Le Hêtre, Fontainebleau, an albumen or coated salt print from a waxed paper negative, dating from the early 1850s. The works for which Le Gray is most celebrated, however, are his seascapes. The striking ocean view in Normandy, Effet de soleil dans les nuages-Océan, 1856-57, is one in a series of poetic and meditative seascapes that brought Le Gray international acclaim for their technical and artistic achievement. The albumen print on display demonstrates his mastery of the medium with a tour de force combination of clouds, sea, and sun.

Near the beginning of his photographic career, Frederick H. Evans (1853-1943) confessed that he was drawn to photography "by my life-long love and study of 'the beautiful.'" Known and respected as a consummate photographer of cathedral architecture and landscapes, Evans is represented in the exhibition by a platinum print, Crépuscule au Printemps, circa 1900, and a gelatin silver print of A Mountain Shoulder-Great Gable from 1914. Crépuscule au Printemps, or "twilight in spring," is the very measure of tranquility. Reminiscent of the skyward-reaching ecclesiastical architecture for which Evans is renowned, the reflection of trees in the tranquil stream achieves an extraordinary moment of silence with a lengthy camera exposure. The stream at the lower left of A Mountain Shoulder, circa 1914, captures the viewer's eye, sweeping it into the picture through man-made walls of stone. But mocking mankind's feeble efforts at control, and looming above in the background, is the overwhelming mass of nature's mountain. The detail of the rocks in the foreground gradually yields to the more abstracted and universal truth beyond and above.

Landscapes (and a Seascape) will be exhibited through November 17, 2017, at Hans P. Kraus Jr. Fine Photographs in New York City.

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