Lot Closed

April 3, 05:37 PM GMT


150,000 - 250,000 USD

Lot Details





albumen print, the photographer's red facsimile signature stamp (Aubenas 353) on the image, mounted, his blindstamp (Aubenas 358), a label, with title and 'No. 15' in letterpress (Aubenas 368), and numbered 'No. 11,512' in ink (Aubenas 367) on the mount, 1857 

16½ by 12¾ in. (41.9 by 32.4 cm.)

Private collection, Paris

Gérard Lévy and François Lepage, 1997

Eugenia Parry Janis, The Photographs of Gustave Le Gray (The Art Institute of Chicago, 1987), p. 71

Ken Jacobson, The Lovely Sea-View: A Study of the Marine Photographs Published by Gustave Le Gray, 1856-1858 (Petches Bridge: 2001), fig. 9

Sylvie Aubenas et al., Gustave Le Gray 1820-1884 (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2002), fig. 144 and cat. 131

Edward Lucie-Smith, The Invented Eye: Masterpieces of Photography, 1839-1914 (New York, 1975), pl. 36

Manfred Heiting, et al., At the Still Point: Photographs from the Manfred Heiting Collection, Volume I (Los Angeles and Amsterdam, 1995), p. 93

Weston Naef, Photographers of Genius at the Getty (The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2004), pl. 15

Simon Kelly and April M. Watson, Impressionist France: Visions of Nation from Le Gray to Monet (Saint Louis Art Museum and The Nelson-Atkins Museum 

In December 1856, Gustave Le Gray first publicly exhibited his revelatory seascapes at the Photographic Society in London (see also Lot 124). Taken from the Normandy shoreline, these wholly new images were greatly admired by the public and caused a sensation in the press. The Norfolk News commented on the exhibition: ‘However painful it may be to our national vanity, we must at once admit that the new picture by [Frenchman] Gustave Le Gray is not only the finest in the room, but the grandest effort that we ever saw in photography’ (quoted in Jacobson, p. 9). Over the next two years, Le Gray completed more than thirty large-format marine studies, including many images, such as this example, that were made near the port of Sète, France, on the Mediterranean coast.

One of his most celebrated works, The Breaking Wave is unique in that it is his only vertical seascape composition. As is often the case with these remarkable photographs made from collodion-on-glass negatives, the sky exhibits less detail so that the shoreline and water can reveal their intricate imagery. The present photograph displays exceptional clarity in the foreground: the craggy rocks reveal brilliant detail and modelling while the frothy swells of water communicate the powerful energy and motion of the sea. The plume of water from the crashing wave remains bright and crisp. In the middle ground, the individual pillars of the Sète pier can be clearly seen. The sailboat at the center of the composition is strong and poised as it tilts into the wind.

Not only did the large format and high level of detail of these albumen prints garner widespread attention, but the subject matter also tapped into a long history of marine imagery. Le Gray’s take on this genre alludes to seventeenth-century Dutch paintings by the likes of Willem van de Velde the Elder, Albert Cuyp, and Jan van Goyen, as well as late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century romantic and sublime canvases by Caspar David Friedrich, Thomas Luny, and J. M. W. Turner. In turn, Le Gray’s The Breaking Wave and other marine studies were the first photographic seascapes to garner critical acclaim.

Examples of this image are in the following collections: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (originally in the collection of André Jammes); the Art Institute of Chicago; the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the George Eastman Museum, Rochester; Victoria & Albert Museum, London; and Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris.