At the heart of dealer James Hyman’s next show is a 19th century photograph of an artist working beneath a tree.
Taken in c.1849 by the French pioneering photographer Gustave le Gray (1820-84), the image reflects two fundamental shifts in art during that era: the rise of photography as an artistic medium and the move to capture landscapes en plein air, central to the Impressionist movement.
Hyman’s London exhibition Paths to Impressionism: Photography and the French Landscape 1850-1865 is a study in how one of these artistic revolutions shaped the other. Running in the Maddox Street gallery from September 6-10, it includes around 50 works, primarily photographs and paintings.
As well as tracking the relationship between photography and the larger art world, it examines how the French landscape was transformed in the age of industry. Artists captured that transition.
The show is sourced from the gallery’s inventory, built over nearly 20 years from private collections, international dealers and auctions.
Lending visual continuity to the show are repeating motifs, such as the tree (as seen in the le Gray photo) and pathways, whether roads, railways or rivers, including Edouard Baldus’ view of Tarascon viaduct.
Often these photographs anticipate or reflect paintings. Baldus photographed the railways that inspired Claude Monet’s paintings. Au bas du point de vue du camp by Eugène Cuvelier bears a strong resemblance to a drawing by Théodore Rousseau, Route en Forêt. Both date to c.1860.
Hyman tells ATG: “At the beginning of the 19th century the influence of Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain is strongly felt in the way that the landscape is a setting for mythological, arcadian scenes and later in the century the Impressionists invented a new vision of the modern landscape. But between these moments, just before Impressionism, mid-century French photographers were beginning to engage more and more with the modern landscape and to break with the convention of earlier tropes.”
One dominant figure in this field is André Giroux (1801-79). He spent much of his life as a painter but briefly took up photograph. He is an ideal figure for the show representing an intersection of the two practices. According to Hyman, he “did all that he could to bring together the two media through, for example, painting in fake clouds”.
Among Giroux’s 60 recorded early photographs taken mostly between 1853-55 are those enhanced with watercolours or gouache, including an example in the show which pairs a salt print from a paper negative with a matching overpainted print (La Ferme au Pigeonnier, c.1855).
Giroux is both highly collectable and still very affordable, Hyman says (although his rarest photographs can reach to around £50,000).
Other artists in the show include Alphonse Delaunay, Charles Negre and Jean-Jacques Heilmann.
Hyman adds: “It includes some of the greatest works in the history of the medium but because the commercial focus at present is on contemporary photography, the greatest works of the 19th century remain undervalued.”
The firm occupies two galleries on Maddox Street and a complementary exhibition of Modern British paintings and drawings, also featuring landscape and naturerelated works, runs alongside the photography show. Later this month the dealership stands at the British Art Fair at Saatchi Gallery.