Charles Nègre made this portrait, of an unknown commandeur in the Legion of Honor, not long after he first took up photography in 1844. Like many artists at the time, his earliest experiments with the new medium were made to be used as aids for his paintings. But Nègre quickly become one of the pioneers of French photography, working with the different processes invented in the medium’s explosive first years, ranging from daguerreotypes to salted paper prints, and even patenting his own heliogravure photo-reproductive process.

First shown to the public in January 1839 by their inventor, the Romantic painter, showman, and entrepreneur Louis Daguerre, daguerreotypes are one-of-a-kind photographic images on highly polished, silver-plated sheets of copper, sensitized with iodine, exposed in camera, and developed in mercury fumes. Like many early daguerreotypes, this portrait is laterally reversed, left to right, as can be seen in the decoration on the sitter’s lapel. The commandeur’s sidelong glare, intense features, and black coat and hat boldly silhouetted against the softly focused, solarized background all make this one of the more compelling examples of early photographic portraiture.


Cataloguing data may change with further research.

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Artist
Charles Nègre, French, 1820–1880
Title
[A Commandeur of the Légion d'honneur]
Date
c. 1845
Medium
Daguerreotype
Dimensions
Image: 4 1/4 × 3 1/4 in. (10.8 × 8.3 cm) Sheet: 4 1/4 × 3 1/4 in. (10.8 × 8.3 cm)
Credit Line

Museum purchase funded by the Buddy Taub Foundation, Dennis A. Roach and Jill Roach, Directors

Current Location
Not on view
Accession Number
2015.93
Classification
Photographs
Provenance

The artist; by descent to Joseph Nègre, date unknown; Galerie Françoise Paviot, Paris, date unknown; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, 2015