The one-of-a-kind Sara Cleary-Burns Collection of hand-painted photographs, produced in Paris in the late 19th century, is on view for the first time in the United States at New York Universitys La Maison Francaise (16 Washington Mews) - through December 18. These images reveal the partnership of French painters and photographers at the beginning of a new art form.
In 1839, Frenchman Louis Daguerre presented the first permanent form of photography, the daguerreotype, a one of a kind photograph fixed directly onto a silver-coated plate. The French government purchased the patent and made the invention freely available to the world. The English calotype or salt print process, which created a negative that could produce numerous reproductions, soon followed.
Artists often regarded photography with ambivalence. Renoir called it both a great good and a great evil, as it freed painting from a lot of tiresome chores, starting with family portraits. Now the shopkeeper who wants his portrait has only to go to the photographer. So much the worse for us, but so much better for the art of painting.
Photographers, many of whom had been trained as painters, learned to alter their images by manipulating the negatives or hand-coloring the final product. The addition of color was considered a natural step toward a more realistic rendering.
The portraits on view are early French over-painted photographs in their original frames, produced between 1841 and 1889. During this time the genre developed an increased sophistication: props were added, sitters were asked to adopt more artistic poses, and over-painting reached new technical heights. As the practice grew, and the images became larger, it was not unusual for over-painted photographs to be presented as original paintings.
France was the only country to have a standardized frame format for painted photographs, and, in most cases, as is true of the images in this exhibition, the creations were signed and/or labeled on the back.
The gallery is open M-F, 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. Occasionally, however, it is closed for university events. Please call to verify hours: 212.998.8750.