Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Request to view at the Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F

The Breaking Wave - Mediterranean Sea

Photograph
1857 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This photograph is one of Le Gray’s series of seascapes celebrated for capturing breaking waves and dramatic lighting conditions. This scene was taken on the French Mediterranean coast near the port of Sète. Le Gray was not the first to photograph breaking waves. Recent research has unearthed the startling possibility that he may have been the publisher, not the photographer, of some of the seascapes that bear his signature stamp. An article in the British Journal of Photography (1 August 1864) mentions: ‘Macaire’s instantaneous photographs of the sea that were published some years ago by Le Gray which so astonished the photographic world’. However, little is known about the photographer Cyrus Macaire to whom this article probably refers. The possibility that Le Gray acted as a publisher for other photographers is feasible. If true, the suggestion does not undermine his artistic judgement, high standards of printing and entrepreneurial skill. Some experts, however, do not subscribe to the idea that Le Gray was a publisher, and opinion is currently divided.

Collodion-on-glass negatives were introduced in 1851. Le Gray adopted them in preference to paper negatives to achieve maximum sharpness coupled with even faster exposure times. The glass plate was covered with a solution of ether and guncotton (cotton steeped in nitric and sulphuric acids). It was then sensitised. The negative had to be exposed in the camera while still wet and developed immediately afterwards.

Most of the V&A’s fine group of Le Gray seascapes came to the Museum in 1868 as part of the bequest of the millionaire art collector Chauncy Hare Townshend. He had kept them in portfolios along with his watercolours, etchings and engravings. They have therefore remained in excellent condition, preserved to museum standards almost since they were made.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Albumen print from a collodion-on-glass negative
Brief Description
Le Gray, Gustave. "The Broken Wave, Sete", 1856-9. Albumen print from wet collodion on glass negative. (Townshend Bequest)
Physical Description
Photograph
Dimensions
  • Image height: 41.7cm
  • Image width: 32.5cm
  • Sheet height: 450mm
  • Sheet width: 357mm
Credit line
Bequeathed by Chauncey Hare Townshend
Subjects depicted
Summary
This photograph is one of Le Gray’s series of seascapes celebrated for capturing breaking waves and dramatic lighting conditions. This scene was taken on the French Mediterranean coast near the port of Sète. Le Gray was not the first to photograph breaking waves. Recent research has unearthed the startling possibility that he may have been the publisher, not the photographer, of some of the seascapes that bear his signature stamp. An article in the British Journal of Photography (1 August 1864) mentions: ‘Macaire’s instantaneous photographs of the sea that were published some years ago by Le Gray which so astonished the photographic world’. However, little is known about the photographer Cyrus Macaire to whom this article probably refers. The possibility that Le Gray acted as a publisher for other photographers is feasible. If true, the suggestion does not undermine his artistic judgement, high standards of printing and entrepreneurial skill. Some experts, however, do not subscribe to the idea that Le Gray was a publisher, and opinion is currently divided.



Collodion-on-glass negatives were introduced in 1851. Le Gray adopted them in preference to paper negatives to achieve maximum sharpness coupled with even faster exposure times. The glass plate was covered with a solution of ether and guncotton (cotton steeped in nitric and sulphuric acids). It was then sensitised. The negative had to be exposed in the camera while still wet and developed immediately afterwards.



Most of the V&A’s fine group of Le Gray seascapes came to the Museum in 1868 as part of the bequest of the millionaire art collector Chauncy Hare Townshend. He had kept them in portfolios along with his watercolours, etchings and engravings. They have therefore remained in excellent condition, preserved to museum standards almost since they were made.
Bibliographic References
  • p. 274Simon Kelly and April M. Watson ; with Maura Coughlin and Neil McWilliam, Impressionist France : visions of nation from Le Gray to Monet, St. Louis : Saint Louis Art Museum and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, c2013. ISBN: 9780300196955.
  • p. 300Storie dell'Impressionismo : I grandi protagonisti da Monet a Renoir da Van Gogh a Gauguin / a cura di Marco Goldin. Treviso : Linea d'ombra, [2016] 9788889902349
Collection
Accession Number
68003

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record createdJuly 28, 2003
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