Around 1855 Gustave Le Gray began a series of seascapes and maritime studies that were unprecedented for their dynamic compositions. This is one of the first photographs giving the appearance of stopping motion. The view was made at Sète, a Mediterranean port in southern France, and was taken from roughly the same position on the bank as The Broken Wave, Sète (La Vague Brisée, Sète).

Given the limitations of photographic chemistry at that time, if Le Gray made his exposure so that the sea would be clearly rendered, the sky would be so overexposed as to appear empty, but if he exposed for the sky, the sea and shore would appear as silhouettes. His solution was to make a combination print: the stormy clouds are one negative, while the sea with its crashing waves and the blackened jetty moored on the horizon are another. The seamless result is a coherent evocation of nature's dramatic activity.


  • Title: The Great Wave, Sète (Main View)
  • Creator: Gustave Le Gray
  • Date Created: about 1857
  • Location Created: Sète, France
  • Physical Dimensions: 34.3 × 41.9 cm (13 1/2 × 16 1/2 in.)
  • Type: Print
  • External Link: Find out more about this object on the Museum website.
  • Medium: Albumen silver print
  • Terms of Use: Open Content
  • Number: 84.XM.637.1
  • Culture: French
  • Credit Line: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
  • Creator Display Name: Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820 - 1884)
  • Classification: Photographs (Visual Works)

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