Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884), the central figure in photography under the Second Empire, was also an influential teacher who introduced photography to a generation of students from different walks of life. Under his guidance, they created a new aesthetic that broke away from the conventional academic teachings of the period. More than seventy years ahead of its time, this circle carved a path for the modernist movement, constructing images that are still surprising today in their daring and perfection.
The list of Gustave Le Gray’s students is as long as it is eclectic, and it has grown since 2002, when a major retrospective devoted to Le Gray was presented at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Since then, new works have emerged, and we have now added the names of Bérenger, Delaunay and Du Manoir, to mention a few, to those of Le Secq, Nègre, Greene and Salzmann.
This exhibition opens with a selection of works by Le Gray evoking his Paris studio, which was located along the walls of Paris’ barrière de Clichy. The first section explores the specificity of the "School of Le Gray" and defines the practices common to the circle: their original treatment of subject matter and composition, their insistence on geometry, and their obsessive attention to detail and to print quality. The second part highlights five important students, either recognized or little known: Charles Nègre, Henri Le Secq, John B. Greene, Alphonse Delaunay and Adrien Tournachon. The photographs by this last artist are the exhibit’s true revelation: a number of his portraits, some quite famous, had previously been attributed to his brother, Félix Nadar.
Through the 160 images on display, many never before been shown, this exhibition proposes a new reading of photography in its early stages.