Salted paper print from a paper negative
Image: 20.5 x 13.9 cm (8 1/16 x 5 1/2 in.); Matted: 61 x 50.8 cm (24 x 20 in.)
Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1998.73
A painter by trade, Le Gray took up photography in 1847 and became a master of light-filled landscapes and seascapes. His early portraits depict his social circle of artists and writers, including his friend and neighbor the playwright Cottinet. He is portrayed here as if in a reverie, perhaps composing a new play in his head. This effect is partly created by the low shooting angle and isolation of the subject in a corner between two bare walls, a rare and casual approach for the time. Posing subjects this way would become a standard ploy for the famed 20th-century photographer Irving Penn, although it is highly unlikely he ever saw this work.
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