A Grand Tour: The Met’s Girault de Prangey Show Offers a Remarkable Look at the Early Days of Photography—and a Vanished World
Art Business

A Grand Tour: The Met’s Girault de Prangey Show Offers a Remarkable Look at the Early Days of Photography—and a Vanished World

Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey, Ramesseum, Thebes, 1844, daguerreotype, 7⅜ x 9½ inches. During the fin-de-siècle, hundreds of daguerreotypes of the Mediterranean and Near East sat in an attic in a dilapidated villa in France, a little closer to Strasbourg than to Paris, collecting dust. Packed in custom-made boxes, they contained what are now believed to be the earliest surviving photographs of Greece, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, and Jerusalem, and among the first of Italy. The collection was abandoned after its owner had died in 1892; some boxes were ransacked by locals, perhaps looking for treasure in the estate. Others remained unopened, the daguerreotypes inside preserved from oxidation. In an extraordinary—and very moving—exhibition that is the first of its kind, the Metropolitan Museum of Art unpacks this time-capsule collection, dating to 1841–45, and makes the case that it comprises the very first photographic archive. Curated by the Met’s Stephen C. Pinson, the show is a poetic meditation on vanished empire, memory, and loss. In 1839, Daguerre sold his eponymous photographic process to France, kicking off the popularity of the medium. One note from the nation’s official announcement of photography’s invention suggests that its precision might be useful on expeditions to Egypt, […]

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