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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Léonard Misonne

Dates:  1870, 1 July - 1943, 14 September
Born:  Belgium, Gilly
Died:  Belgium, Gilly
Active:  Belgium
Belgian pictorialist. An engineer turned painter, pianist and photographer, Misonne was interested in the interplay of light and atmosphere. He worked with the carbon and oil process and photographed the European countryside, producing lyrical and graceful landscapes as well as figure studies.
[With contributions by Pam Roberts]

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Léonard Misonne
(Courtesy of Christian Peterson)

Léonard Misonne was Belgium’s most famous pictorialist and one of the world’s most admired, from the 1920s until his death in 1943. While he produced urban images, he excelled at landscapes, sometimes with figures. He favored stormy weather conditions and contre-jour effects, where rear illumination produced halos around his subjects. To many, he was simply the photographer of light and atmosphere.
Misonne was born on July 1, 1870, in Gilly, Belgium, his lifelong home. He grew up in a privileged family, gaining a deep appreciation for music and nature. He earned a degree in mining engineering in 1895 from the University of Louvain and began work in the field. A year later, however, he had to give up his profession due to asthma and decided to devote himself to photography.
Already a member of a small amateur club of photographers, Misonne joined l’Association Belge de Photographie in 1897. His photographs began to be published and he frequently presented them as slide shows, a method he preferred until World War I. In 1906, he married and honeymooned in Italy and Switzerland. Previously, he had traveled to London, Paris, and Germany, but after his wedding Holland was the only country he traveled to. Around 1910, he interacted with Constant Puyo and Pierre Dubreuil, but he largely isolated himself from other pictorialists. In 1913, he moved into his family’s mansion and began photographing frequently in a nearby park.
Misonne’s mature photographs were very painterly and impressionistic, due to his use of manipulative printing processes such as oil, Fresson, and gum-bichromate. In 1931, he patented a "Flou-Net" screen to produce a range of soft-sharp effects when used in front of the camera lens. This device was marketed in the United States by the American Photographic Publishing Company, which promoted it in full-page magazine ads. In 1935, he developed the mediobrome process, which was a cross between a bromide and oil print.
Misonne’s photographs were exhibited extensively, beginning in 1896, when he first showed in Brussels. Juries at European and American salons rarely rejected his prints. In 1922, he had a solo show at the Camera Club of New York and in 1937 at the Royal Museum of Art and History (Brussels). In 1940 and 1941, two fifty-print shows of his were circulated around the United States, primarily to leading camera clubs but also some unlikely venues, indicative of the accessibility of his highly crafted images. These included the Aurora School of Photo-Engraving (Missouri), Blackwell Public Library (Oklahoma), Cayuga Museum of History and Art (Auburn, New York), Culver Military Academy (Indiana), Kearney Junior High School (Nebraska), Kenosha Historical and Art Museum (Wisconsin), and Richmond Camera Shop (Virginia).
Reproductions and articles by Misonne blanketed the photographic press. He wrote about his working methods and techniques for such U.S. periodicals as the American Annual of Photography, American Photography, Camera,and Photo-Art Monthly. In 1900 and 1901, halftones of his work appeared in Camera Notes, the leading quarterly edited by Alfred Stieglitz. Beginning in 1908, Photograms of the Year, England’s important annual, included his images every year until 1941, except during World War I. Perhaps most significant was the monograph published on him in 1934, by Die Galerie in Vienna. This deluxe oversize book comprises twenty-four full-page illustrations, richly printed on heavy stock with tissue guards. A companion volume to similar ones devoted to Alexander Keighley and Rudolf Koppitz, it was issued in a numbered edition of one thousand copies, all signed by Misonne.
Misonne’s photographic activities were heavily curtained during World War II, due to the German occupation of Belgium. He died on September 14, 1943, in Gilly, due to complications of asthma. 
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. 
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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If you have a portrait of this photographer or know of the whereabouts of one we would be most grateful.
Family history 
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Visual indexes

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Internet biographies

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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

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual 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.125 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Léonard Misonne.] 

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.254 
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