Joseph, vicomte Vigier

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Voyage dans les Pyrénées, a rare exhibition of salt prints from 1853 by Joseph, vicomte Vigier will be on view at Hans P. Kraus, Jr. Fine Photographs from February 5 though March 7, 2008. The work will be on view in the U.S. for the first time. A fully-illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition.

One of the pioneers of French photography, Vigier studied with Gustave Le Gray and became one of his most successful pupils. Although today his name is not well known largely due to the rarity of his work, his salt prints are included in a few major museum collections such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles and The Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

Voyage dans les Pyrénées will present 18 landscape photographs of the Pyrenees from large paper negatives by Vigier. Considered some of the most magnificent photographs made during the early years of photography, the salt prints represent some of the best preserved examples of this artist's work. 

Vigier traveled through the Pyrenees creating paper negatives of dramatic mountainscapes and quaint village scenes in the summer of 1853. Early landscape photographers, including Vigier, often drew upon the pictorial conventions familiar in painting and printmaking, selecting their scenes based upon their similarity with traditional view pictures. The late 18th century pictorial concepts of the sublime and the picturesque were particularly influential on Vigier. For example, an ideal picturesque scene included rough, varied and broken lines and textures. It preferably combined a dark foreground with a brighter middle ground, a less distinct background, and made use of framing side screens, elements readily visible in Vigier's Paysage à Pau. Conversely, his Vue du torrent de la Cascade des Demoiselles reminds one of "nature's grander moods" and is inspired more by the sublime than the picturesque. Pictures like this may also have inspired the later western American, mammoth-plate pictures by Carleton Watkins or Eadweard Muybridge. 

Vigier's work is remarkable for his depth and breadth of vision, and while he did often focus on more traditional views, his choice of strange or unusual subjects suggest his willingness to reject tradition in favor of purely photographic subjects. In Pont de l'ardoise, a meandering path crosses a foaming stream over a simple bridge forged from branches and slate. Vigier combined the spindly details of the branches and foliage with the soft flowing stream, made softer still by the lengthy exposure time, in this rich and sumptuous print.  

This group of prints is "stunning in its uniformity of quality, both technical and aesthetic," notes Dr. Larry J. Schaaf, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Arts, London, writing in the catalogue essay. He adds, they "are the most substantial and in many ways the finest coherent collection of this photographer's work."


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