In addition to the talented designers, artisans, and chemists who produced elaborate creations at the Royal Porcelain Factory, the village of Sèvres on the outskirts of Paris attracted the naturalist painters Troyon, Daubigny, and Corot, who came to sketch picturesque scenes along the banks of the Seine and in the nearby forest. Nurtured by these currents of technical and aesthetic innovation, Robert, head of the factory's painting workshop, took up photography as an amateur pursuit about 1850. As accomplished as his professional counterparts in Paris but unfettered by commercial preoccupations, Robert trained his camera on the intimate, the vernacular, and the natural with a studied informality.
This rare and beautiful photograph—the only known print of this image—comes from a small series of views made at Romesnil, in Normandy; by virtue of their scale, complexity, and authority, they represent a highpoint of Robert's oeuvre. Here, a dilapidated wooden barn, crumbling stucco outbuildings, pebbly road, and pile of sticks are vehicles for an exquisite study of tone and texture. Robert, who in the kilns of Sèvres daily transformed natural elements of earth, water, and fire, found a more compelling beauty at Romesnil in nature's gradual reclaiming of humanity's constructions.