Hans P. Kraus Jr. Fine Photographs has announced the discovery of a portfolio of salt prints from the 1850s, which will be exhibited at Paris Photo from November 17 through November 21, 2010. Fifteen photographs of French landscapes and architecture made by Henri Courmont (1813 -1891) will be on view for the first time. Work by Gustave Le Gray, which was found in the portfolio, will also be on exhibit. An illustrated catalogue with an essay by photo historian Denis Canguilhem will accompany the exhibition. Henri Courmont: Salt Prints from Paper Negatives, 1853-1855, coincides with a landmark exhibition (through January 16, 2011) at the Bibliothèque nationale de France entitled
Primitifs de la photographie. Le calotype en France (1843-1860), which includes examples by Henri Courmont.
An important cultural official, but unknown as a photographer until now, Courmont served the Mission Héliographique, which was France's first public and collective commission charged with documenting the country's architectural patrimony using the new art of photography. As a commissioner, Courmont's task was to develop the program and appoint its photographers. He secured the services of some of the finest talents of the day: Le Gray, Édouard Baldus, Henri Le Secq, Hippolyte Bayard and Auguste Mestral. Modest and contemplative, Courmont was an intensely private individual who probably did not exhibit his work during his lifetime, which may be why he has been omitted from studies of early French photography. Courmont's work is now being identified and researched. It seems likely that Courmont may have studied with Gustave Le Gray.
More than 50 salt prints from paper negatives are contained in the portfolio, including work by Le Gray, Baldus and Le Secq. Courmont's subject matter ranged from intimate studies of trees, forest views, bucolic farm scenes, and mills reflected along riverbanks to rural bourgeois homes and public edifices in Paris. The portfolio was discovered when a bookseller in the Troyes region of France was retiring from business decided to part with it.
Informed by the most talented of French photographers, Henri Courmont clearly created a remarkable body of landscapes and architectural work. When his group of photographs are unveiled at Paris Photo 2010, it may well be the first exhibition ever of the work of this photographer.