Édouard Baldus: Landscapes and Monuments, a carefully selected group of high-quality prints, is on view at Hans P. Kraus Jr. Fine Photographs from May 18 through July 28, 2023. Subjects range from the Louvre and Versaille in Paris to landscapes made along the railway line south to the Mediterranean coast.
After studying painting in Prussia and then in Paris, Baldus (1813-1889) turned to photography in the late 1840s. A founding member of the Société héliographique, in 1851 he was one of five photographers assigned by the Commission des monuments historiques to carry out Missions Héliographiques, photographic surveys of the nation’s architectural patrimony. The clarity and scale of his photographs so impressed the French government that Baldus was hired to record historical monuments in Paris and the provinces. By 1855 Baldus had become known as the preeminent architectural photographer in France.
From the mid-1850s to the early 1860s, Baldus exhibited at the Société française de photographie, the Photographic Societies of London and Scotland and in numerous international expositions, including the 1855 Paris Exposition Universelle where he was awarded a first-class medal for a photographic project.
Made before Baldus began working chiefly with glass negatives in the early 1860s, the cultivated landscape, “Château de Polignac,” a coated salt print from a paper negative, 1850s, belongs to a series of photographs he produced while traveling through Auvergne, in central France. Perhaps because of the dramatic physical character of the region, Baldus focused on the landscape itself and the multiple pathways leading up to the castle on the hill.
Interior at Versailles is a salt print from a glass negative, 1850s, in which the main compositional element of the picture, the receding barrel vaults of the ceiling, lead the eye straight into the image, down the long corridor to the closed door at its end. The photographer seems to have favored this image so much, that despite the prominent and startling flaw in the negative, he printed it.
The exhibition features a selection of photographs Baldus made for his album, Chemin de Fer de Paris à Lyon et à la Méditerranée. Commissioned by the rail company in 1861 to highlight the line’s role in uniting the capital and provinces, bold geometric images of railroad tracks, stations, tunnels and viaducts and classic views of historic architecture present Second Empire engineers as the natural heirs to a great tradition of building that stretched back to Roman and medieval times. The PLM project contains some of Baldus’s finest work, made specially for the commission or drawn from his existing stock of paper negatives, joining past and present in an historical continuum that embraces antiquities, medieval monuments and structures built by Second Empire technology and engineering.
A majestic landscape made along the Côte d’Azur, The Eagle’s Beak, La Ciotat is an albumen print from a paper negative, circa 1860. This image possesses a human scale, despite the grandeur of the scene. The skillful gradation of tone from his paper negative beautifully renders the subtle effects of light and shadow.
The port of “Marseille” was a crucial link in an interlocking transportation network. The albumen print from a paper negative, circa 1861, on display highlights the city’s commercial importance. Contrasting bands of dark and light frame this image of rich, wide-ranging tones.
In the fine albumen print from a glass negative, “Arles, Amphithéâtre,” 1861-1863, the arches in the foreground direct our gaze to the angled view of receding arches and fragments of columns. The perspective and contrasting lights and shadows create a sense of the inner expanse of the Amphithéâtre. This picture reminds us that Baldus, who began his career as a painter, became a master photographer accomplished at handling subtle perspective.