Jean-Baptiste-Louis Gros (French, 1793–1870)
8 5/8 x 6 3/4 in. (22 x 17.1 cm)
Purchase, Fletcher Fund, Joyce F. Menschel Gift, Louis V. Bell Fund, Alfred Stieglitz Society and W. Bruce and Delaney H. Lundberg Gifts, 2010 (2010.23)
A French diplomat and gentleman amateur photographer, Baron Jean-Baptiste-Louis Gros first learned of photography while stationed in Bogotà, Colombia, in the early 1840s. In the years that followed, he made daguerreotypes in South America, Greece, Egypt, London, and Paris that were greatly admired by his fellow photographers and continue to entrance viewers today with their startling detail and iridescent surface. This work, one of fewer than twenty plates now known by Gros, is thought to show the salon of his Paris home.
Gros' exceptional mastery of the technical aspects of the young medium was paired with a refined visual sensibility, seen here in the richness of the setting, with its multiple patterns and textures in fabric and decorative objets d'art, and most of all in the subtle and seductive play of light. Every detail is perfectly calibrated—the ewer carefully silhouetted in the window, the stylish high-back chair positioned invitingly in the glancing sunlight, the daguerreotypes on the easel clearly visible despite their mirrorlike surfaces, and the closed curtains that provide a theatrical backdrop. It is an interior and a still life, but most of all it is a self-portrait, a revealing picture of Baron Gros' social standing, aesthetic discernment, travels, and talent.