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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Herbert G. French

Dates:  1872, 17 January - 1942, 25 June
Born:  US, KN, Covington
Died:  US, OH, Cincinnati
American photographer whose work was published in Camera Work in 1909.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Herbert G. French
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

Herbert Greer French was born on January 17, 1872, in Covington, Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. Two years later, his family moved to Chicago, and in 1888 they relocated to Cincinnati. After attending the University of Cincinnati, French began working at Proctor and Gamble in 1893. Ten years later, he became the company’s treasurer, succeeding his deceased father. He eventually worked his way up to senior vice president there.
French began exhibiting creative photographs around 1900, the year his work was accepted at the prestigious Philadelphia Photographic Salon, judged by Alfred Stieglitz and other top pictorialists. French became known for his images of women in exotic costume (often illustrating his favorite poems), printed on platinum paper in low and subtle tonalities.
French was an early member of Stieglitz’s elite Photo-Secession group and was designated a fellow in 1904. Stieglitz included French’s work in Photo-Secession shows at the Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute in 1904, Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1906, and New York’s National Arts Club in 1909. It was also seen at the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, in the group’s first three members’ shows, 1905-1907, and, more importantly, in a one-person exhibition there in early 1906, comprising forty-five illustrations to Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. That same year, French arranged the exhibition Photographic Art for the Cincinnati Art Museum, which comprised almost exclusively work by Secession members. And, the July 1909 issue of Camera Work featured five photogravures by French, along with an article by him on creativity and achievement.
Outside of the context of the Photo-Secession, French’s work was also seen, in other exhibitions and the photographic press. It was included in the Pittsburgh salon in 1900, the annual exhibition of London’s Royal Photographic Society in 1900 and 1901, the London salon in 1902-1904, the Paris salon in 1904 and 1906, and shows in Dresden and Vienna. Perhaps his last appearance was in An International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography, organized by Clarence H. White in 1914 for the Erich Art Galleries in New York.
French’s pictures were reproduced by the photographic press, in periodicals and one book. They appeared in the American Amateur Photographer (January 1902), American Annual of Photography 1902, and Photographic Times (March and December 1902, and July and August 1903). In 1918, Henry Turner Bailey, the dean of the Cleveland School of Art, featured one of French’s images of a costumed woman in his instructional book Photography and Fine Art.
French devoted himself to arts other than pictorial photography. Fancying himself a poet, he self-published two limited-edition volumes, Songs of the Shore and Others I and II, in 1925 and 1929. He helped raise money for Cincinnati musical organizations, but most importantly was a serious print collector. In 1928, he was appointed the Cincinnati Art Museum’s first curator of prints. The next year, he became a trustee and funded the construction of a wing for the museum (named after him) to house the new department of prints.
Herbert G. French died in Cincinnati on June 25, 1942. By this time, he had personally collected over 800 etchings and woodcuts, from the fifteenth to twentieth century, including outstanding impressions by Dürer, Rembrandt, Whistler, and Toulouse Lautrec. French bequeathed these to the Cincinnati Art Museum, forming the nucleus of its holdings of graphic art. 
Christian A. Peterson Pictorial Photography at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Christian A. Peterson: Privately printed, 2012) 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of Christian Peterson and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 1 June 2013. 
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