Of Spirit & Form: The Monuments of France in Photographs
by Édouard Baldus and Médéric Mieusement
Sheldon Art Galleries - Bernoudy Gallery of Architecture and
the Gallery of Photography
September 29, 2006 - January 6, 2007
As a founding member of the Société Héliographique in 1851 and a participant in the Société Française de Photographie from 1857, Édouard Baldus displayed his photographs widely in European exhibitions between 1854 and the early 1870s and won numerous awards. A master in the production of salt prints, albumenized salt prints, albumen prints and his own heliogravure method, he also created successful combination prints and occasionally retouched his negatives with pencil and ink. His image of the facade of the cathedral in Lyon is one such example of retouching, where the upper stories of the building on the left edge of the print were inked over on the negative to show the church front with fewer visual constraints. Baldus’s formal and consistently descriptive large photographs set a standard for the use of the medium during the Second Empire and were prized by architects and historians through the rest of the century as excellent elements for study and reference.
Upon this foundation, established during the 1850s, developed another generation of photographers who desired to offer their skills in the cause of documenting and interpreting French architecture. Among the most important of this group, although often overlooked, was Séraphin Médéric Mieusement (1840-1905). Mieusement began his photographic career in 1859 working with the architect Jacques Félix Duban in the restoration of the château in Blois and entered partnerships with several photographers in the town before establishing his own studio in 1864. His many years of work with Duban, and other projects in the Loire valley, were positive experiences that led Mieusement to offer his services to the Minister of Public Instruction and the director of Beaux-Arts in 1872 to photograph more widely the historic monuments of France. After several years, the Commission des Monuments Historiques decided to reinitiate a collection of photographs to accompany their sets of drawings, and in 1876 hired Mieusement to begin the process of recording. By the end of 1883 the photographer had created nearly two thousand negatives to aid the government’s building restoration projects throughout the country and continued to supply images from every region of France until the end of the century.
Médéric Mieusement had an understanding and respect for the skill and ideas presented in the artistic work of sculpture and architecture from earlier ages but noted “it is necessary to have the holy fire in order to travel with a hundred and twenty kilograms of luggage for days on end.” After returning from his long excursions, he would then find it necessary to discuss the price of selling his negatives and accompanying prints. Mieusement requested, in a letter to the director of Beaux-Arts, twenty francs for each negative, “but the first on every building would be set at a rate of forty francs, because of the numerous allowances to be obtained from individuals, for the benefit of a window or a terrace to allow the taking the building in the best possible conditions,” or for the permission “to set sometimes on the roof of a neighboring monument, sometimes in a gutter, and often prepare a portable scaffolding on the public way.”
1 quoted in Sylvie Cohen, “On Mieusement” in Mieusement, Cathedrals de France: photographies du XIXe siecle,
(Paris, 1988), p. 3.
2 Correspondence of Mieusement preserved in the Archives du Patrimoine (Paris) along with about 7500 negatives (quoted in Sylvie Cohen, “On Mieusement” in Mieusement, Cathedrals de France: photographies du XIXe siecle, [Paris, 1988], p. 3).