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Between and Mortarboard

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Solar Effect in the Clouds--Ocean

Accession Number

Solar Effect in the Clouds--Ocean

Gustave Le Gray

Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
albumen print on paper

12 5/16 in x 15 7/8 in (31.27 cm x 40.32 cm);22 1/16 in x 27 9/16 in (56.04 cm x 70.01 cm);20 13/16 in x 25 5/16 in (52.86 cm x 64.29 cm);12 5/16 in x 15 7/8 in (31.27 cm x 40.32 cm)

Credit Line
Museum purchase made possible by the W. Hawkins Ferry Fund

Label copy
Gustave Le Gray
France, 1820–1884
Solar Effect in the Clouds—Ocean (Effet de soleil dans les nuages—Océan)
Albumen print
University of Michigan Museum of Art, Museum purchase made possible by the W. Hawkins Ferry Fund, 2008/2.1
Gustave Le Gray understood that in the early stages of its development, photography was regarded more as an industrial process than as an artistic one. The painter-turned-photographer sought to change that perception, and he self-consciously positioned himself as an artist. He wrote in 1852,“For me, instead of falling into the domain of industry or commerce, I wish for photography to enter into the domain of art; it is in this direction that I will always seek to advance it”.
Le Gray’s use of a “solar effect” can be understood as the photographer’s attempt to position photography as a medium capable of reproducing picturesque beauty in a manner similar to painting but with a set of formal characteristics all its own. Here, Le Gray demonstrates his mastery of the medium with a tour de force combination of clouds, ocean and sun. Le Gray has frozen these mobile forces of nature on the glass plate and in so doing, staked a claim for photography as a medium capable of producing atmospheric effects similar to those achieved in landscape painting.
(Normandy show, 2010)

Subject matter
One of a number of seascapes that Gustave Le Gray took in Normandy and along the Mediterranean coast between 1856 and 1857, this version is quite spare, as it eliminates evidence of boats or people and rather concentrates on the effect of sunlight, which pierces the parting clouds and casts a reflection on the gently rippling water. The comparatively dark sea and gray clouds around the periphery of the scene serve to heighten the visual impact of this strip of light, rendering it an almost miraculous solar phenomenon. Le Gray pioneered a process of double printing, by which he combined a sky from one negative with an ocean scene from another, allowing him to create seemingly instantaneous scenes of the sky and ocean together that were otherwise impossible by mid-nineteenth century photographic standards.

Physical Description
Seascape depicting a cloud-filled sky over the ocean with sunlight reflecting on the rippling water.

Primary Object Classification

Collection Area

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reflections (perceived properties)

4 Related Resources

Exhibitions Objects from The Lens of Impressionism: Photography and Painting Along the Normandy Coast, 1850-1874 
(Part of: The Lens of Impressionism: Photography and Painting Along the Normandy Coast, 1850-1874)
Landscape and Nature, Comparative and Historical
(Part of 3 Learning Collections)
Surreal Photography
(Part of 2 Learning Collections)
(Part of: Exchange and Influence on Global Trade Routes)

& Author Notes

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