Libraries can contain unexpected treasures. Who would have guessed that the Frick Art Reference Library possesses a collection of seventy-four photographs of artists in their Paris studios circa 1885 to 1892? The photographs were given to the Library in 1940 by the American polar artist Frank Wilbert Stokes (1858–1955). Stokes had much earlier (1916–19) tried unsuccessfully to persuade Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919) to visit his studio and buy some of his paintings.
Paris was an attractive destination for American artists in the late nineteenth century: art education there was (or at least thought to be) more advanced than in the United States, and a burgeoning art market made it an ideal place to sell contemporary art. Furthermore, there was an infrastructure of studios, art suppliers, and photographers, and it was an inexpensive place to live. Stokes enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris under Jean Léon Gérôme (1824–1904) in 1881. He also studied under Raphaël Collin (1850–1916) at the Académie Colarossi, and Gustave Clarence Rodolphe Boulanger (1824–1888)and Jules Joseph Lefebvre (1836–1911) at the Académie Julian in 1884. After participating in the American explorer Robert Peary’s 1886 Greenland expedition, he was again in Paris from 1887 to 1892. It is likely that the Frick’s photographs date from this time.
Jean Léon Gérôme (1824–1904): “A splendid draughtsman and master. A noble and great character who would have been a great statesman if he had wished and adored by all his [pupils].” – Frank Wilbert Stokes. Gérôme had a studio at 65, boulevard de Clichy until 1904.
Frederick Arthur Bridgman (1847–1928). Registered at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1867. Pupil of Gérôme from 1867 to 1871. Lived at 12, rue Jacob (1867), 75, boulevard de Clichy (1880s), and then 146, boulevard Malesherbes (Exposition universelle of 1900 catalog).
Parisian tutors included in the collection are Benjamin-Constant, Bonnat, Cormon, Courtois, Gérôme (see illustration), Lefebvre, Munkácsy, Robert-Fleury, and Vuillefroy. The collection also includes their American pupils Bisbing, Bridgman (see illustration), Dannat, Gay, Howe, Klumpke, McEwen, Melchers, Stewart, Stokes, and Weeks. It was common practice at this time for tutors to invite favored pupils to visit their studios.
Indeed visits to artists’ studios were generally fashionable, prompted by a late romantic interest in the creative process and an obsession with bohemian life. The photographs in the Frick’s collection were probably created in response to a demand for souvenirs for those who had visited studios or as surrogates for those who were just interested in the artists represented at the Salons des artistes français or the Exposition universelle of 1889. They sold for 50 centimes and are distinct from cartes de visite, which were much smaller in size and generally depicted portraits.
These photographs are examples of the albumen print, invented in 1850 by the French photographer and publisher Louis-Désiré Blanquard-Évrard (1802–1872). This print type was the most widespread photographic medium employed between the 1850s and the 1890s. The albumen print has a glossy sheen imparted by a preliminary sizing of the paper with egg white (albumen) and salt. The paper is then dried before being soaked in a bath of silver nitrate or brushed with a solution of the same. Again the paper is dried but, as it is now light sensitive, placed in the dark. The paper is then put in a frame in contact with the glass (and occasionally paper) negative and placed in sunlight in order to make a print. This could take minutes or up to an hour. “Hypo” (a solution of hyposulfite of soda) is used to fix the print.
More than half of the photographs in the collection at the Frick are numbered on the print at the bottom left. At least two of the photographs can be identified as the work of Édouard Fiorillo, who was associated with the firm Goupil/Boussod, Valadon et Cie, and who, with G. Michelez and Léopold Louis Mercier, was involved in the documentation of state purchases from the Salons (from 1881). Fiorillo was known for photographing sculpture in particular. The Goupil connection is reinforced by the first subject in the numbered series being Gérôme, who had married Marie, the daughter of Adolphe Goupil (1806–1893), and who figured prominently in Goupil’s repertoire of reproductive prints.
The Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C., has a similar set of photographs of artists in their studios, which were collected by a Mrs. Kirkham, a painter, but, while there are some subjects in common, the photographs are different: Frick’s Gérôme is a sculptor, whereas the Archives of American Art’s is a painter.
Julius C. Rolshoven (1858–1930) was in Paris from 1882 to 1888.
Stokes annotated some of the photographs from the collection at the Frick retrospectively: “Rolshoven talented and returned to U.S. where he rather deliquesced into a semi-diligent attitude and died unappreciated.” As Rolshoven passed away in 1930, this statement suggests that Stokes may have annotated the photographs just before giving the collection to the Frick (see illustration).
With the Frick’s Photoarchive, exhibitions, and sales catalogs, e.g., L’atelier F.A. Bridgman (Paris: Drouot, 1929) or L’atelier de Michael Munkácsy (Paris: Drouot, 1898), the studio photographs help document the provenance of works of art for this period and demonstrate the importance of photographic evidence.
Dr. Stephen J. Bury, Andrew W. Mellon Chief Librarian, Frick Art Reference Library