Tree Study, Forest of Fontainebleau

Artist: Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820–1884)

Date: ca. 1856

Medium: Albumen silver print from glass negative

Dimensions: 31.8 x 41.4 cm. (12 1/2 x 16 5/16 in.)

Classification: Photographs

Credit Line: Purchase, Joyce and Robert Menschel, The Howard Gilman Foundation, Harrison D. Horblit, Harriette and Noel Levine and Paul F. Walter Gifts and David Hunter McAlpin Fund; and Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harry H. Lunn Jr., 1987

Accession Number: 1987.1011


Le Gray returned to the Forest of Fontainebleau in the mid-1850s with a larger camera and glass negatives. In contrast to the flickering abstraction of his earlier pictures, the later Fontainebleau photographs generally emphasize broader effects of light and shadow. In the work reproduced here, the only known print of this image, Le Gray broke with his more usual habit of photographing the noble, aging oaks for which the forest was famous, and focused instead on the seemingly insignificant brush springing from a tree trunk. Pointing his camera into the light-contrary to the accepted rules of good photographic practice-Le Gray celebrates a momentary epiphany of observation, a sparkling display of light and life, rendered in the golden hues characteristic of his prints from the mid-1850s.