The Lure of Italy

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Hans P. Kraus, Jr. Fine Photographs will exhibit The Lure of Italy: 19th Century Photographs, which features works by the mysterious partnership of Eugène-Firmin Le Dien and Gustave Le Gray, and the circle of Giacomo Caneva, May 7 through June 6, 2009. The exhibition coincides with See Italy and Die: Photography and Painting in 19th Century Italy at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris from April 7 through July 19, 2009.

Among the highlights in the The Lure of Italy: 19th Century Photographs is The Roman Forum Towards the Capital Hill, 1852-1855, a salt print by Firmin-Eugène Le Dien and Gustave Le Gray, which tenderly depicts the Roman Forum with an abundance of laundry hanging out to dry in the foreground. Another salt print shows a sun-drenched Roman aqueduct in the summertime -- a geometric vision of intersecting arches interspersed with leafy trees. There are also portraits in the exhibition, including those of street musicians who were of great interest to photographers and artists in 19th century Rome. Giacomo Caneva's Reclining Pifferaro from the early 1850s shows a musician posing in all his bohemian glory. The exhibition also includes prints that are newly attributed to Caneva.

Gustave Le Gray was one of the most influential photographers in the 19th century. In his studio, he trained many other photographers including: Henri Le Secq; Joseph, vicomte Vigier; and Charles Nègre.  Eugène Le Dien probably learned photography as a student of Le Gray, but the rediscovery, in 1990, of a blindstamp bearing both their names suggested a more involved relationship. Based on a numerical code on the negatives, Sylvie Aubenas, curator of 19th century photographs at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, has determined that Le Dien, having been inspired by Le Gray in 1851-52 to take up photography, produced a large number of paper negatives in southern Italy. When Le Dien returned to Paris in late 1853 or early 1854, he went to see Le Gray to begin printing from the negatives he had produced.  Perhaps Le Gray even joined Le Dien in Italy. The extent of their collaboration still requires further exploration.

Giacomo Caneva was born in Padua in 1813 and moved to Rome by 1840 where he stayed until his death in 1865. He began his career as a painter of what were then called perspective pictures, but once in Rome he quickly developed an interest in photography and joined a group of photographers that met at the Caffé Greco from 1850-52. Caneva's pictures of goats and other animals roaming through the streets confirmed travelers' preconceived notions of Rome as one great pastoral landscape. These photographs could serve as reminders of this quaint and archaic lifestyle long after the visitor had returned to the hustle and bustle of a modernizing Paris, or a rapidly industrializing London. In Caneva's photographs, the quotidian life of Rome remains alive.

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