French Master

Gustave Le Gray at the Getty

Of the scores of French artists who took up the nascent medium of photography in the 1850s, turning it from a scientific phenomenon into an artistic endeavor, Gustave Le Gray was the most darkly romantic and perhaps the most original. His earliest pictures on paper—"heliographs" he would have called them, in the manner of the day—were of ancient oaks and gnarled beeches in the Forest of Fontainebleau, outside Paris. He went on to gain fame for his brilliant seascapes in Normandy and in Sète, on the Mediterranean: No other painter or photographer of his time so sublimely captured the natural convergence of earth, air, water, and light. Gustave Le Gray: Photographer, surprisingly the first full retrospective of the artist's work, opens July 9 at the J. Paul Getty Museum, in Los Angeles.