Sunday, September 25, 2016

Wedding at the Photographer's (1878-79)

Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret: Wedding at the Photographer's

Wedding at the Photographer's is a valuable commentary on the new craze for portrait photographs, which promised to document individuals and formal family occasions for posterity with a degree of verisimilitude hitherto unimaginable. The scene is the inside of a photographer’s studio, where a young man and woman are being photographed in their wedding finery. The anecdotal interest of the work shifts from the couple to several humorous vignettes that occupy different sections of the composition. These include a young girl in blue dress watching poutingly what is occurring inside the studio and the photographer going about his work completely oblivious to everything around him. The painting, as was noted by contemporary critics, responded to the public’s interest in verisimilitude – as documented by its fascination with photography itself. The artist recorded objects in microscopic detail, for example, the mirror at at the left, in which there is a small calling card advertising the photographer and giving his address in Vesoul. This detail would have gone unnoticed except by those close to the artist. Even though Paris is given in the inscription as the place where the work was completed in 1878-79, we know from letters that the painter was spending more and more time in the Haute-Saone region near Vesoul, its capital.

Since Dagnan-Bouveret wrote about the painting in a letter to Anne-Marie in early 1879, it is also known that he researched the theme before beginning the composition. He actually visited the studio of a photographer in Paris and made a small study of the rooms (perhaps more than one), in order to explore the way in which the background could be integrated with his figures. He also had the Parisian photographer take his picture, which he eventually sent to his fiancée along with a photograph of his canvas Manon Lescant. When Wedding at the Photographer's was exhibited at the Salon, it was extremely well positioned and received many compliments. Yet the artist had a nagging sense of doubt about the picture, thinking it perhaps too clever; he was also troubled that the Salon had become too much of a showplace, where artists tried to outdo their peers. [Gabriel P. Weisberg, Against the Modern: Dagnan-Bouveret and the Transformation of the Academic Tradition, Dahesh Museum of Art, 2002, pp. 49-51]

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