A daguerreotype by Baron Jean-Baptiste Louis Gros—a work of extraordinary quality and rarity—has been acquired by the Metropolitan Museum. Both a depiction and a demonstration of what the medium was capable of at its high point in 1850s Paris, The Salon of Baron Gros shows the interior of a mid-nineteenth-century parlor believed to be that of the baron, with light streaming in from a window at left.
The richness of the setting, with multiple patterns and textures of fabric and decorative objets d'art, the easel full of photographs in the center of the composition, and the subtle and seductive play of light are all exceptional qualities, as are the perfectly calibrated details—the ewer carefully silhouetted in the window, the stylish high-back chair positioned invitingly and glistening in the glancing sunlight, the daguerreotypes on the easel clearly visible despite their mirror-like surfaces, and the closed curtains providing a theatrical backdrop. The Salon of Baron Gros is an interior and a still life, but equally a self-portrait of Baron Gros’s social standing, aesthetic discernment, travels, and talent.
A French diplomat born in 1793, Gros first learned of the medium of photography while stationed in Bogota, Colombia, in the early 1840s and is known to have made a number of daguerreotypes there and in Mexico, as well as later in Greece, Egypt, London, and Paris. He was the author of a treatise on daguerreotypy (Quelques notes sur la photographie sur plaque, 1850) and several articles outlining his technical practice. He was regarded by his contemporaries in France as the consummate master of the daguerreotype, a judgment shared by modern scholars. Fewer than 20 extant plates by Gros are known today.
According to Malcolm Daniel, curator in charge of the Museum's Department of Photographs, "this magically iridescent daguerreotype—a superb example of the medium as practiced by one of its most skilled practitioners—is not only our finest French daguerreotype, it is now one of the Metropolitan's greatest photographic treasures in any medium and from any period or place." It is the first work by Gros to enter the Met's collection and will be installed in the Robert Wood Johnson, Jr. Gallery later this year.