In 1855, Edouard Baldus, a central figure in early French photography, was contracted by the administration of Napoléon III to photograph the statues, ornamental elements and façades of the Louvre and Tuileries palaces in Paris. From 1854 into the mid-1860s, Baldus made over a thousand photographs. The photographs originally served as a means of keeping track of the hundreds of sculptural and ornamental works being executed, but by 1856 they were understood to serve a grander purpose…to produce a full account of the construction of the Louvre, which will be of the highest interest for the history of art. (La Lumiére, March 15, 1856) The albumen and salted paper prints were ultimately assembled into albums and presented to foreign dignitaries, French officials, and national and international collections.
Twelve years later, speculating commercially, Baldus selected his best negatives from the project, re-printed them in his proprietary photogravure process and self-published them as Palais Du Louvre Et Des Tuileries. While this was actually Baldus’s fourth book of photogravures, it was the first comprised of his own photographs. His previous projects were primarily reproductions of engravings by fifteenth- to eighteenth-century French artists. For Baldus, who was originally a painter, photogravure offered a unique aesthetic – the hybrid of chemical-based photography and ink-based printing – resulting in images that appear part photograph and part charcoal drawing. Through his command of tone and hand-enhanced engraving, Baldus created an effect in his photogravure prints that take them beyond the ‘image’ and toward a dimensional ‘object.’
His process yielded richly inked, velvety textured prints with an extraordinary clarity and fineness of detail, which he heightened occasionally with etched lines added by hand.
By comparing photographs and photogravures that issue from the same Baldus negative, we can ascertain what Baldus wanted to achieve with Palais visually, and how photogravure enabled visual effects that photography did not. Examining the photogravures and photographs in relation to one another reveals the extensive hand-work laboriously administered to the photogravure plate in order to reveal nuance and detail lost in the photographic process and/or the etching of the plate. Baldus’ hand-work was also used to solve problems – to correct numbers and letters that had been transposed in the process and add details where missing or needed. The process also enabled Baldus to isolate many of the sculptures and artifacts from the distracting surrounding, removing any context that would place them on a construction site.
It was with this project that Baldus gave up photography to devote himself entirely to his photogravure business. Volumes one and two were originally issued in 1869-1871- the first comprising interior views, the second exterior ; volume three was issued in conjunction with a reissue of the first two volumes, all under title: Palais Du Louvre Et Des Tuileries: Motifs De Décorations Tirés Des Constructions Exécutées Au Nouveau Louvre Et Au Palais Des Tuileries Sous La Direction De Mr H.l. Héliogravure Par E. Baldus (it should be noted that there can be a lot of variation in the configuration of plates in any of the volumes). Because of the success of the first two volumes, the third, showing both interior and exterior motifs, was produced, and the three-volume set was published by Morel in 1875.
Our collection has examples from each volume of this publication, matching original salt prints and three early test proofs from the project. This diverse group of material provides an excellent resource to aid in understanding Baldus’ incorporation of the beautiful process into his art.
Addleman-Frankel, Kate. After Photography?: The Photogravures of Édouard Baldus Reconsidered. , 2018.
Addleman-Frankel, Kate. Process of Selection: Édouard Baldus, The New Louvre Commission Photographs, and Palais Du Louvre Et Des Tuileries, Concordia University, Montreal, 2007
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Daniel, Malcolm, “The Beginnings of Photogravure in Nineteenth Century France” (2001)
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