Biography | Bibliography
Charles Nègre was a French painter and documentary photographer. Born in Grasse, Nègre went to Paris at the age of 19. He studied painting under Ingres and Delaroche, another of whose pupils, Gustave Le Gray, introduced him to photography. After a short period of making daguerreotypes, he embraced the calotype process, becoming adept at retouching negatives and printing. He used his pictures as aids to painting and developed his skills as a landscape and architectural photographer.
Delaroche encouraged the use of photography as research for painting; Nègre started with the daguerreotype process before moving on to calotypes. His “Chimney-Sweeps Walking”, an albumen print taken on the Quai Bourbon in 1851, may have been a staged study for a painting, but is nevertheless considered important to photographic history for its being an early instance of an interest in capturing movement and freezing it forever in one moment.
Having been passed over for the Missions Héliographiques which commissioned many of his peers, Nègre independently embarked on his own remarkably extensive study of the Midi region. The interesting shapes in his 1852 photograph of buildings in Grasse have caused it to be seen as a precursor to art photography. In 1859, he was commissioned by Empress Eugénie to photograph the newly established Imperial Asylum in the Bois de Vincennes, a hospital for disabled workingmen.
In 1852, acting independently of the official Mission Héliographique, Nègre embarked on his own photographic survey of his native Midi. Within a year, he had made c. 200 negatives of its scenery, towns, industries, and buildings (both old and new). However, the attempted publication of a subscription series (1854) quickly foundered. Other projects included pictures on themes of labor and street life (early 1850s), an unfulfilled plan to publish engravings from his pictures of the Holy Land, and a series of images—commissioned by Napoleon III in 1860—of the Imperial Asylum at Vincennes. In 1861 he retired to the South.
He used both albumen and salt print, and was known also as a skilled printer of photographs, using a gravure method of his own development. A plan commissioned by Napoleon III to print photographs of sculpture never came to fruition, and in 1861 Nègre retired to Nice, where he made views and portraits for holiday makers. He died in Grasse in 1880.
— Robert Pols
James Borcoman, Charles Negre, 1820-1880, Ottawa, Canada: The National Gallery of Canada, 1976.
Francoise Heilbrun, Charles Negre, photographe, 1820-1880, Paris : Éditions des Musées nationaux, ca. 1980.
Michel Laclotte, Jean-Maurice Rouquette, Francoise Heilbrun, Charles Negre: Photographe, Paris: Editions des Musees Nationaux, les dossier d’orsay, 1980.
Joseph Negre, Charles Negre; Le Midi de la France, Paris: Galerie Octant, 1984.
Joseph Negre, La Riviera de Charles Negre: Premieres Photographies de la Cote d’Azur (1852-1865), Grasse, France: Luis Nucera, 1991.
Andre Jammes, Eugenia Parry Janis, The Art of French Calotype, 1845-1870, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983.
Isabelle Jammes, Blanquart-Evrard et les Origines de l Edition Photographique Francaise, Geneve, Paris: Librairie Droz, 1981.