NEW YORK — An exhibition of early photographs capturing the allure of ancient Egypt will be exhibited by Hans P. Kraus Jr. Fine Photographs from 19 September - 23 November 2022. Visions of Egypt & Nubia features the work of John Beasley Greene, Félix Teynard, Ernest Benecke, Gustave Le Gray and others.
By the mid-19thcentury the land of the pyramids was of great fascination in continental Europe and Great Britain as the new disciplines of archaeology and photography were evolving. Produced by French and British photographers eager to experiment with this new process, some of the photographs in the exhibition were taken for archaeologists, while others were made for the photographers themselves. The pictures appealed to those who were excited to view actual photographs after having only read about, or seen illustrations of, this remote and mysterious land.
Félix Teynard (1817-1892) was one of the first visitors to Egypt to record its monuments and landscape in photographs. A civil engineer from Grenoble, who may have learned the waxed paper negative process from Le Gray, he traveled on an extended voyage to photograph the architecture and landscape of Egypt and Nubia in 1851-1852. Teynard’s images constituted the most complete photographic record of the Nile Valley from Cairo to the Second Cataract. These were printed by the Paris firm of Fonteny in 1853-1854 and published by Goupil in 1858. Louksor (Thebes). Construction Postérieure-Galeries Parallèles, an untrimmed proof salt print from a waxed paper negative with dark borders, was not printed by Fonteny, but more likely by Teynard himself. Trim lines visible around the edges are instructions to the binder on how the print was to be trimmed for mounting.
Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884) trained as a painter and had become an innovator of photographic processes, developing the waxed paper negative around 1848. The exhibition includes Le Gray’s exceptionally lush landscape of the Nile through a stand of palm trees, “Le Nil à Assouan,” an albumen print from a waxed paper negative, taken in 1867 on his final photographic voyage. Having mastered the use of glass negatives ten years earlier, he appears to have deliberately returned to using paper negatives in Egypt to evoke the textures of the desert.
An American born in France, John Beasley Greene (1832-1856) made surprisingly modern images of Paris, Egypt, and Algeria in only four years, before his early death at age 24. After studying photography privately with Le Gray in Paris and Fontainebleau, Greene made his first expedition to Egypt from the fall of 1853 until June 1854. An early stop was Auguste Mariette's excavations at Giza. Mariette had been in Egypt since 1850 and by the time of Greene's arrival had already staked his nation's claim to the almost buried stone Sphinx by erecting a French flag on its head. On display is Sphinx and Pyramids, Necropolis of Memphis, Giza, 1853-1854. The waxed paper negative evokes an otherworldly impression of an illuminated nighttime view. Greene's images of Mariette's excavations, to which he was given privileged access, are some of the earliest and most poignant ever made in Egypt. Once in Egypt, Greene was moved by the endless expanse of sky to create majestic views. In “Étude au dessus de Louqsor,” circa 1854, Greene's pictorial description is underscored by the effects produced by the paper negative and the salted paper print which were ideally suited to the textures of sand and stone, amplifying here the picturesque qualities of the landscape.
Since Napoleon's arrival in 1798, Egypt had seen the West remove many of its treasures, including the obelisk from the temple of Luxor which in 1836 found its way to the Place de la Concorde in Paris. The obelisk shown in the exhibition, Cleopatra's Needle, Alexandria, a waxed paper negative from 1853-1855, which Greene has so mesmerizingly captured, is now located in Central Park behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Its twin resides on the Thames Embankment in London. While Greene could not prevent the removal of Egypt’s treasures, he was able to preserve them photographically, making these images his legacy to both scholarship and the history of art.