First Glimpse Into a Historic Photo Archive

The WPI’s Photothèque Archives is a remarkable collection of over 25,000 black and white photographs originally assembled by the Wildenstein Institute throughout the 20th century. These photographs were intended to facilitate staff research on a variety of art historical subjects, ranging from 13th c. religious relief sculptures to 20th c. artists such as Mikhail Larionov. The WPI is currently processing this sizable collection for public use, and will release  three archival seriesin Fall 2020 that will offer researchers a glimpse into this vast trove of photographic information. . 

Series 1. Women Artists

The Women artists series contains photographs used by Georges Wildenstein and Marie-Louise Bataille for their 1961 publications, Berthe Morisot: Catalogue des Peintures, Pastels et Aquarelles [Fig. 1]. This series also contains images of works by the renowned Impressionist artist Eva Gonzalès, who died in childbirth at age 34. Other highlights include  photographs of works by 18th century artists Anne Rosalie Bocquet Filleul, Marguerite Gérard, and Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, as well asreproductions of two of Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun’s sketchbooks, used by the artist while in exile from France after the French Revolution [Fig. 2]. 

[Fig. 1] Berthe Morisot’s carte de visite portrait by Pierre Petit, date unknown. The Wildenstein Plattner Institute Digital Archives. 

 [Fig. 2] Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Path and forest, 1801–1802. The Wildenstein Plattner Institute Digital Archives.

Series 2. Exhibitions

The Exhibition series consists of installation photographs of various exhibitions organized by, or with the assistance of, the Wildenstein family between 1945–1962. Two of the four exhibitions represented in this series took place at Georges Wildenstein’s Galerie des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

For instance, the 1945 Exposition au profit des enfants sinistrés de Londres [an exhibition to benefit orphans in London] featured paintings by artists including Jacques Villon, Raoul Dufy, and Auguste Chabaud, and was followed by an auction to benefit the orphan children. An article from Le Monde published on May 7, 1945 announced that Mary Soames, Winston Churchill’s youngest daughter, traveled to Paris to attend the auction in a show of support and appreciation for the Galerie des Beaux-Arts’s undertaking. Her visit might have been memorialized in a group photograph that depicts seven guests posing in front of an exhibition wall, with Mary Soames possibly standing on the far right, dressed in a longfur coat [Fig. 3]. 

[Fig. 3] Group photograph from Exposition au profit des enfants sinistrés de Londres at Galerie des Beaux-Arts, c. 1945. The Wildenstein Plattner Institute Digital Archives.

Series 3. Portfolio of Models

The Portfolio of models for hire is the third and last series of the Photothèque Archives’ inaugural release. The portfolio consists of about a hundred photographs of French working models from the 1940s, showing themin various poses and attitudes. This peculiar group of photographs is accompanied by a booklet with handwritten notes listing the models’  names andoccupations, as well as some of their physical characteristics or personality traits. For instance, Miss Cazamayor was somewhat paradoxically described as being both distinguished and timid [Fig. 4]. 

[Fig. 4] Miss Cazamayor, c. 1940s. The Wildenstein Plattner Institute Digital Archives.

Most photographs in the Photothèque came with little contextual or explanatory information to document  their provenance and purpose. Processing this unusual collection of images required further investigation to assign elemental background information and to provide the public with a more robust set of research material. 

More Series will be released as the WPI archivists continue to process the Photothèque over the coming months.. Sign up for the WPI’s newsletter for updates on Digital Archives.

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