River Scene

negative 1858; print 1860s

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum
Los Angeles, United States

When Camille Silvy originally exhibited this photograph in 1859 (with the title Vallée de l'Huisne), a reviewer wrote: "It is impossible to compose with more artistry and taste than M. Silvy has done. The Vallée de l'Huisne...[is a] true picture in which one does not know whether to admire more the profound sentiment of the composition or the perfection of the details." Early collodion-on-glass negatives, such as those Silvy used to render this scene, were particularly sensitive to blue light, making them unsuitable for simultaneously capturing definition in land and sky. Silvy achieved this combination of richly defined clouds and terrain by skillfully wedding two exposures and disguising any evidence of his intervention with delicate drawing and brushwork on the combination negative. The print exemplifies the tension between reality and artifice that is an integral part of the art of photography. The Huisne River provided power for flour and tanning mills and was significant in the history of Nogent-le-Rotrou, the town where Silvy was born. This photograph was taken from the Pont de Bois, a bridge over the river, looking toward the south and downstream. It was only a few minutes' walk from Silvy's birthplace. As the reviewer suggested, it is a sentimental image, an idyllic landscape full of reverence for and memory of a timeless place that was significant in the artist's development.


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