From the Catalogue:
Gustave Le Gray began experimenting with glass negatives in the late 1840s, and he quickly saw the benefits of this new technique. Glass negatives, with their ability to capture detail during short exposures, were ideal for the sea views Le Gray began in 1856, a prime example of which is Ships leaving the port at Le Havre. The rippled surface of the water and the crisp detail in the ships’ sails and rigging could not have been captured with a paper negative. As always, Le Gray’s thorough understanding of chemistry and craft allowed him to create what at the time was an unprecedented photographic view.
In Impressionist France: Visions of Nation from Le Gray to Monet, April M. Watson describes this photograph as a “majestic view [which] features a group of ships leaving the port of Le Havre. The bold, graceful silhouettes of these vessels, sailing into the seemingly infinite sea in waning light, owes a clear debt to Romantic conceptions of the sea voyage as akin to mortal passage” (p. 270). She also notes that this photograph was, “despite its technical perfection and painterly affinities, produced in far fewer numbers [than his other seascapes] for reasons that remain unclear” (p. 272, note).
Prints of this image have been located at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art and in the collection of Roger Thérond. It is believed that only four prints of Ships leaving the port at Le Havre have appeared at auction, including the print offered here. This print was owned originally by William Craven (1809-1866), the Second Earl of Craven, a photographer and early collector of the medium. His collection, including his own photographs, as well as works by contemporaries such as Le Gray, Charles Marville, and Roger Fenton, was sold at Bearne’s, a country auction house in Exeter, in 2000 and 2001.
—Courtesy of Phillips
Signature: Facsimile signature in red ink on the recto; credit blindstamp and numbered in an unidentified hand in ink on the mount; partial Giroux & Cie label affixed to the mount.
Jacobson, The Lovely Sea View: A Study of the Marine Photographs published by Gustave Le Gray, 1856-1858, pl. 7 (this print)
Janis, The Photography of Gustave Le Gray, pl. 3, variant cropping, there titled Napoleon III’s Fleet Leaving the Harbour, Le Havre
Apraxine, Une passion française: Photographies de la collection Roger Thérond, pp. 206-207
Aubenas et al, Gustave Le Gray 1820-1884, pl. 273, cat. no. 125
Schirmer/Mosel, Gustave Le Gray Seestücke, cover, p. 67
Watson, Impressionist France: Visions of Nation from Le Gray to Monet, rear cover, pl. 104
Collection of William, Second Earl of Craven
Bearne's, Exeter, The Craven Photographic Collection, 6 May 2000, lot 83
About Gustave Le Gray
Boldly asserting in 1850 that photography’s future would lie on paper, Gustave Le Gray refined the emerging French method of developing photographs from paper negatives, using thinner paper and coating it with wax to produce crisper images. Le Gray set out to establish photography’s place among the fine arts and largely achieved that goal with his celebrated portraits and photographs of Paris streetscapes and the Fontainebleau Forest. Although he was trained as a painter, Le Gray distinguished himself as a photographer by recognizing the medium as an independent art form with a unique set of rules that did not necessarily derive from painting. Combining the collodion-on-glass and paper negative processes, he created dynamic images of waves crashing on the shore that many consider to have inspired Claude Monet to paint along the Normandy coast.
French, 1820-1884, Villier-le-Bel, France, based in Cairo, Egypt