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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Gustave Le Gray

Born: Jean-Baptiste-Gustave Le Gray 
Other: J.B. Gustave Le Gray 
Joint: Le Dien & Le Gray 
Joint: Le Gray & Mestral 
Dates:  1820, 30 August - 1884, 29 July
Born:  France, Seine-et-Oise, Villiers-le-Bel
Died:  Egypt, Cairo
Active:  France / Italy / Egypt
Early French photographer and developer of new photographic processes. He took photographs of the forests at Fontainebleau, recorded monuments for the ‘Commission des Monuments Historiques‘, took seascapes and military maneuvers (1857), before fleeing his financial troubles and going to live in Egypt.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Gustave Le Gray
Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum (London, UK)

Gustave Le Gray had high aesthetic ambitions for photography, creating virtuoso images and in particular dramatic seascapes. Previous photographers had found it difficult to capture skies, because of the different exposures needed to get detail in the sea and the sky. Le Gray solved this by using two different negatives.Le Gray was also one of the first to claim that photographs could be appreciated as works of art in their own right. 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Victoria & Albert Museum and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 11 Nov 2011. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.

Further research

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Gustave Le Gray [Attributed to]
1851 (ca)
Family history 
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch.

Exhibitions on this website

ThumbnailArchitecture: Missions Héliographiques 
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CLARIFICATION: This exhibition is of works by the photographers who participated in the Missions Héliographiques and NOT the photographs taken specifically for the survey. Further advice is welcome.
ThumbnailGustave Le Gray: Seascapes 
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Theme: War
ThumbnailGustave Le Gray: Camp de Châlons (1857) 
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Visual indexes

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Visual indexes for this photographer are available for subscribers.There is so much more to explore when you subscribe. 

Internet biographies

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Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer. Go to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online ( has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
 Go to website
The Cleveland Museum of Art, USA has a biography on this photographer. [Scroll down the page on this website as the biography may not be immediately visible.] Go to website

Internet resources

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Gustave Le Gray ... 
On-line exhibition at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris) 
Sea & Sky: Photographs by Gustave Le Gray, 1856-1857 ... 
This exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum (London) examines the composite seascapes of Gustave Le Gray. 

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.49 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.297-298 
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Gustave Le Gray.] 
• Perez, Nissan N. 1988 Focus East: Early Photography in the Near East 1839-1885 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.) p.190-191 [Short biography on Gustave Le Gray possibly with example plates.] 
• Weaver, Mike (ed.) 1989 The Art of Photography 1839-1989 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press) p.459-460 [This exhibition catalogue is for the travelling exhibition that went to Houston, Canberra and London in 1989.] 
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.181-182 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

• Gruber, Renate and L. Fritz Gruber 1982 The Imaginary Photo Museum (New York: Harmony Books) p.253 
• Naef, Weston 1995 The J. Paul Getty Museum - Handbook of the Photographic Collection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) p.50-51, 61, 81 
• Naef, Weston 2004 Photographers of Genius at the Getty (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum) [For this photographer there is a description and three sample photographs from the Getty collection. p.32-35] 
• Newhall, Beaumont 1982 The History of Photography - Fifth Edition (London: Secker & Warburg) [One or more photographs by Gustave Le Gray are included in this classic history.] 


The wit and wisdom.

"Since its first discovery, photography has made rapid progress, especially as regards the instruments employed in its practice. It now remains for the artist to raise it to its proper position among the fine arts. (1856)"
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