The Hand-drawn Negative

Clichés-Verre by Corot, Daubigny, Delacroix, Millet and Rousseau (1854 - 1862)

23 November 2007 - 19 January 2008

New York



The Hand-drawn Negative: Clichés-verre by Corot, Daubigny, Delacroix,
Millet and Rousseau (1854 - 1862)
23 November 2007 - 19 January 2008

Peter Freeman, Inc. is pleased to present the most important and complete collection of clichés-verre in private hands. The cliché-verre, a relatively obscure and still largely-overlooked medium, was borne amidst the flurry of excitement and experimentation following the invention of photography in the early 19th century. Considered a hybrid of printmaking and photography yet made without camera, the cliché-verre was both a creative curiosity and an innovative and unique means to instantly produce differing versions of a single image.

Starting with a collodion-covered glass plate, the artist would draw a picture using an etching needle, paintbrush-end or stick; the resulting cliché-verre thus functions as a glass negative for contact printing. Less commonly, an image could also be conceived tonally by painting different densities of emulsion onto the glass surface. Once prepared, the glass plate would be placed face-down against light-sensitive paper, usually salt paper, and exposed to the sun, and the image would slowly be reproduced onto the paper through the photographic process. To achieve a varied effect, the glass plate could also be flipped or a second plate of glass could be inserted between image and paper, producing a softer, almost dewy interpretation of the original image via the refraction of the light rays through the glass.

It was in the communities of Arras just outside of Paris and at Barbizon near the Fountainebleau forest where cliché-verre gained a foothold and briefly flourished in France over the course of two decades. Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875), greatly intrigued by photography, became its most passionate and prolific practitioner, ultimately attaining fluid, free, almost abstract sketches which demonstrate his assurance with the medium and which are striking in their modernity. Corot's extensive visual exploration with this new medium was enthusiastically shared by Charles-François Daubigny (1817-1878), whose expertise as an etcher informed his sensitive and masterful treatment of the glass plate.

Exhibited now for the first time in the Untited States, this collection of 71 clichés-verre was put together around 1911 by the Paris collector and dealer Albert Bouasse-Lebel and has remained intact for almost a century. Bouasse-Lebel conceived the collection shortly after he obtained the plates directly from the Cuvelier family. It was Adalbert Cuvelier who introduced Corot and Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) to the cliché-verre medium, and it was his son Eugène Cuvelier -- whose own early landscape photographs were the subject of an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1996-7 – who encouraged cliché-verre production among the Barbizon artists, including Jean-François Millet (1812-1867) and Théodore Rousseau (1814-1867).

A publication with an essay by James Crump, who has written extensively about photography and is the director of the acclaimed documentary film "Black, White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe," accompanies the exhibition.