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Getty Aquires early British and French photography

The J. Paul Getty Museum has announced the acquisition of thirty-nine French and British photographs from the 1840s through 1860s, representing some of the most impressive architectural and landscape prints and negatives produced in photography’s early years. The works were acquired from Jay McDonald, a Santa Monica resident who has actively collected photographs since the 1970s and has amassed one of the finest private collections of 19th-century photography in the United States.

“With this acquisition, the Getty Museum is poised to become one of the most important resources for the sustained study of early negative/positive photography that came out of the revolutionary first generation of experimentation with the new medium. It represents one of the rare moments when science and art come together to produce something totally unexpected – indeed a totally new art form,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “This acquisition also reinforces our commitment to collecting photography that spans the full history of the art form and places the Getty among the most significant repositories of early paper negatives in an American collection, rivaled only by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the George Eastman House.”

The group of works includes six prints and four negatives by Charles Nègre (French, 1820-1880), four prints by Louis-Auguste and Auguste-Rosalie Bisson (Bisson Frères) (French, 1814-1876 and 1826-1900), three prints by André Giroux (French, 1801-1879), three paper negatives by Louis–Rémy Robert (French, 1810-1882), a print and negative by Henri Le Secq (French, 1818-1882), a print and negative by Captain Linnaeus Tripe (English, 1822-1902), as well as single works by Édouard Baldus, Eugène Cuvelier, Louis De Clercq, Roger Fenton, Frédéric Flacheron, John Beasley Greene, Louis-Adolphe Humbert De Molard, Gustave Le Grey, Charles Marville, Léon-Eugène Méhédin, Dr. John Murray, Victor Regnault, Captain Horatio Ross, Benjamin Brecknell Turner, and an unknown photographer. All works are in excellent condition, underscoring the degree to which early practitioners became invested in the craftsmanship of the medium.

Created by some of the most significant photographers of this period and primarily featuring landscapes and architecture, the works reflect the active debate on aesthetic and scientific aspects of early photography that animated the medium at the time. The experimentation and bold compositional choices of these photographers became foundational for subsequent generations who sought to capture the natural and man-made wonders of the world. Subjects include important architectural sites around the world, from Notre Dame, the Louvre, and the Roman Coliseum to the Taj Mahal and sites in Burma; as well as historic examples of early photojournalism, including a flood in Southern France, the aftermath of an earthquake in a Swiss village, and one of the battlefields of the Crimean War. Other scenes depict villages, ruins, and tree-lined roads across Europe.

The acquisition also ensures that the Museum’s photography holdings will better complement its collection of paintings from this period. Because many early photographers were trained as painters, there was a sustained dialogue between the two media. The spirit of experimentation in photography played a critical role in the development of modern art, and the Getty will now be an important West Coast resource for the study of this relationship, both as established during photography’s early decades and as demonstrated by practitioners working today who apply similarly experimental approaches that revel in the immediacy of the materials and potential of the medium. The work of seven such artists can be seen in the current exhibition, Light, Paper, Process: Reinventing Photography, on view at the Getty Center through September 6.

“As rare as it is to find individual prints and negatives of this quality, it is all the more extraordinary to have the opportunity to acquire a collection that has been so expertly assembled and preserved,” says Virginia Heckert, curator and department head of the Getty Museum’s Department of Photographs. “The sixteen paper negatives in the group comprise a particularly important component of the acquisition, as they triple our holdings of paper negatives by French makers and add four excellent negatives by British makers.”

Selected French works from the acquisition will be included in the Getty exhibition and publication Real/Ideal: Photography in France, 1848-1871 (working title) in preparation by assistant curator Karen Hellman for fall 2016.

Images (Left to Right):
Taj Mahal, 1862, Dr. John Murray (British, 1809 – 1898). Paper negative, sky opaqued with ink and graphite, 37 x 47 cm (14 9/16 x 18 1/2 in.). The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2015.42

Notre-Dame, Paris, about 1853, Charles Nègre (French, 1820 – 1880). Waxed paper negative, 33.6 x 24 cm (13 1/4 x 9 7/16 in.). The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2015.43.1

Village Scene with Geese, about 1855, André Giroux (French, 1801 – 1879). Salt print from a paper negative, 21.5 x 27.5 cm (8 7/16 x 10 13/16 in.). The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2015.35.3

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