The Breaking Wave
The Breaking Wave
Part of The J. Paul Getty museum permanent collection, located in Los Angeles, California. Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program. Gustave Le Gray French, Sète, 1857 Albumen silver print 16 5/16 x 13 3/16 in. 84.XM.347.11 Active scenes in nature, such as a moving boat and waves breaking on the rocks, had never been photographed before, but Gustave Le Gray was an indomitable innovator whose technical improvements to the medium shortened his exposure times. What he could not improve upon, however, was the simultaneous exposure of sea and sky. Given photography's chemical limitations at that time, if he exposed the negative so that the sea was rendered clearly, the sky would be so overexposed as to appear empty. If he exposed for the sky, the sea and shore would appear only as silhouettes. In this composition, he opted to let the sea and land dominate. In reality, the blowing sails and choppy waters indicate a more tumultuous sky than the one seen here. Around 1855 Le Gray began to make a series of seascapes and maritime studies. This view was made at Sète, a Mediterranean port in southern France; it was taken from roughly the same position on the bank as Le Grande Vague, Sète (The Great Wave, Sète). This print's vertical format, the only one among Le Gray's many seascapes, emphasizes the boats' blowing sails. Text from
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Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program, copyright 2010, J. Paul Getty Trust
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