[Oak Tree and Rocks, Forest of Fontainebleau]

Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820–1884)
Salted paper print from paper negative
25.2 x 35.7 cm (9 15/16 x 14 1/16 in.)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Jennifer and Joseph Duke and Lila Acheson Wallace Gifts, 2000
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 964
The Forest of Fontainebleau—forty thousand acres crisscrossed by footpaths and dotted with ancient oaks and anthropomorphic boulders—attracted a generation of painters in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Corot, Daubigny, Rousseau, and others found in the light-dappled woods south of Paris both a spiritual antidote for the tensions of modern urban life and a perfect subject for exploring the physical and expressive properties of their medium, free of academic strictures. Working alongside these pre-Impressionist painters and testing the limits of another medium was Le Gray, a young artist who had recently traded in his paint box and easel for a camera and tripod.

In this early work, a unique print formerly in the famed Jammes collection, Paris, Le Gray sought to convey the sensuous experience of the sylvan interior. Rather than providing an inventory of precise details, Le Gray's waxed paper negative (a process he invented) translated the observable world into a painterly evocation of light, texture, and atmosphere. The network of branches, patches of lichen, and sparkling vegetation are woven into a tapestry of allover patterning—reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock painting—that merges solid and void, substance and shadow.

Inscription: Facsimile signature stamp in black ink on print, bottom left corner: "Gustave Le Gray"; notations in unknown hand in pencil on mount, recto, bottom edge, center to right corner: "é pr. le produite in JANIS, Le G. p.48 fig. 3 et datée 49–52 // Expos. MET et Chicago 1987. / Exp. Le Gray Orsay 1988. / Expos. Princeton, 1983."; numbered in unknown hand in pencil on mount, verso, center: "16" (encircled)
Marie-Thérèse and André Jammes, Paris; (sold, Sotheby's, London, sale L09316, October 27, 1999, lot 62)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Johnson Gallery, Selections from the Collection 26," May 15, 2000–September 18, 2000.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Photographs: A Decade of Collecting," June 5, 2001–September 4, 2001.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Framing a Century: Master Photographers, 1840–1940," June 3, 2008–September 1, 2008.

Complesso del Vittoriano. "Impressionism and the Ecology of Landscape," March 5, 2010–June 29, 2010.