Musée d’Orsay: the astonishing Girault de Prangey, scholar and artist



Fallen into oblivion after his death in 1892, the scholar and artist Joseph Philibert Girault de Prangey, born in Langres in 1804, has established himself for twenty years as a major figure in the history of photography. In 2003, his daguerreotype Temple of Olympian Jupiter taken from the east produced in 1842 in Athens during its Grand Oriental Tour was the subject of pharaonic auctions (1).

Probably formed by Louis Daguerre shortly after the proclamation of his invention in 1839, Girault perfectly mastered the process from 1841. Parisian views bear witness to this: the Tuileries, the Tour St Jacques and above all a moving set of shots dedicated to Notre-Dame before its restoration by Viollet-le-Duc, including a large plaque on the facade without the spire.

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Equipped with his “monster”, a gigantic custom-made device, he set off for a Grand Tour which, from 1842 to 1844, took him from Italy to Palestine via Greece, Egypt, Turkey and Lebanon. and Syria.

Flora and fauna

A specialist in architecture, he alternates general plans and details, adapting his plates to the subjects: vertical panoramas for the caryatids of Athens or the great minaret of Alexandria, horizontal for the views of Baalbek, Jerusalem or Damascus.

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Ingenious and creative, he experiments with formats, cuttings and multiple exhibitions. And shows the same freedom in the choice of his subjects: he turns his gaze on vernacular architecture, landscapes, scenes of everyday life, denoting a true artistic sense of framing and composition.

Back on his native land of Haute-Marne, Girault devoted himself to the acclimatization of rare plants and birds in his fabulous Tuaire estate, fitted out in the Moorish style. He abandoned the daguerreotype for photography on paper and developed a passion for newly invented stereoscopic views. His domain will become his main subject: flora, gardeners at work, hunting scenes, portraits, everything inspires him. Until then unknown, this late work confirms the art of this pioneer.

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