Born in Langres, for the last twenty years, Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey (1804-1892) has been regarded as one of the leading figures of early French photography. A painter and illustrator, archaeologist and architectural historian, a “gentleman scientist” studying rare plants and birds, he was in fact a pioneer of the daguerreotype, a technique that he mastered perfectly in 1841 and which he used to produce a body of work of a quality and breadth unrivalled except perhaps by the more recently discovered work of the Englishman John Ruskin.
With no fewer than 1000 plates to date – a number which may yet rise as the extent of his work is still something of a mystery - this body of work was produced for the most part between 1842 and 1844, during a classic journey around the Mediterranean from Italy to Egypt by way of Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jerusalem and Palestine.
The exhibition at the musée d'Orsay, the first monographic presentation in France of Girault de Prangey’s photographic work, aims above all to showcase this historically exceptional collection and the originality of its techniques and materials, while emphasising the aesthetic aspirations that it merits over and above its initial documentary role.
Through around 120 daguerreotypes, paintings, watercolours, lithographs, illustrated books and photographic prints by Girault de Prangey, the exhibition will also take a new approach situating this corpus within the photographic work produced before and after the Mediterranean journey. Virtually unknown, it will be analysed within the context of France from the 1830s to the 1880s – artistic and archaeological – and against the background of the boom in illustrated scientific publications and the growth of intellectual societies on archaeology and horticulture, in order to give a new insight into Girault de Prangey‘s personality and his development as an artist and photographer.