[Study of Leaves on a Background of Floral Lace]

Artist: Charles Hippolyte Aubry (French, 1811–1877)

Date: 1864

Medium: Albumen silver print from glass negative

Dimensions: Image: 46.7 x 36.7 cm (18 3/8 x 14 7/16 in.)
Mount: 56.7 x 45.3 cm (22 5/16 x 17 13/16 in.)

Classification: Photographs

Credit Line: Gilman Collection, Purchase, Howard Gilman Foundation Gift, 2004

Accession Number: 2004.106


In addition to more traditional floral compositions, Aubry produced studies of leaves, individual or grouped, dipped in plaster and photographed with raking light to reveal their exquisite forms and structures. Halfway between the natural world from which they were plucked and the realm of carved trophies, printed wallpaper, and woven carpets that they were meant to serve, Aubry's leaves possess an extraordinary sculptural presence and skillfully blend natural and stylized beauty.

In 1864 Aubry was a newcomer to photography, having spent his entire career until then as a designer of decorative arts. His self-education in photography and his creation of leaf studies "after nature" came at a moment of crisis in French decorative arts, when British competitors seemed to have surpassed the French in the design of industrial goods, particularly for the middle and lower classes. Hoping to provide part of the solution-and to profit in the process-Aubry proposed that the French government purchase his series of several hundred photographs for distribution to art and industrial schools throughout France. He overestimated the potential of government support, however, and anticipated a change in the design curriculum that never wholly materialized; by January 1865 he was forced to declare bankruptcy.