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Seascape with Sailing Ship and Tugboat

1857

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum
Los Angeles, United States

Alternately titled Le Vapeur (The Steamship), this photograph of a tugboat leaving a black cloud of steam in its wake is a study in atmospheric textures. Presumably pulling the sailing ship back to port, the tugboat, which is dwarfed by the luxury boat, exerts itself fully, judging from the vaporous emission that it spouts in the effort. The activity stands in dramatic relief to the serenity of the sea that it crosses; a few other boats are barely visible dots on the horizon. Gustave Le Gray favored such fleeting moments, scenes that existed only long enough to be photographed. He positioned his camera to eliminate all reference to the shoreline, which gives the illusion that the photographer was on the water with the vessels.

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