The Great Wave, Sète

Gustave Le Grayabout 1857

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum

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.

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  • Title: The Great Wave, Sète
  • Creator: Gustave Le Gray
  • Date: about 1857
  • Location Created: Sète, France
  • Physical Dimensions: 34.3 x 41.9 cm (13 1/2 x 16 1/2 in.)
  • External Link: Find out more about this object on the Museum website.
  • Medium: Albumen silver print
  • Source Credit Line: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
  • Signature: (Recto, print) stamped signature in red ink, at lower right corner: "Gustave Le Gray"
  • Object Type: Print
  • Object Status: Permanent Collection
  • Number: 84.XM.637.1
  • Markings: (Recto, mount) partial imprinted cream-colored paper label affixed at lower right corner: "GRANDE ___ CE[TTE] / No 17" (Recto, mount) blindstamp at bottom center: "PHOTOGRAPHIE / GUSTAVE LE GRAY & Co / PARIS [all within an oval border]"
  • Inscription: (Recto, mount) inscribed in brown ink, at lower left corner: "[illeg.] 11439."
  • Display Location: Not currently on view
  • Department: Photographs
  • Culture: French
  • Classification: Photographs


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