Early Photographic Career: 1850–1855

Self-Portrait at a Window, February 20, 1851

Church of Bacharach, Southern End, 1854
salted paper print from paper negative
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris

In 1853 and 1854, Marville traveled throughout Germany making landscapes, cityscapes, and architectural studies that were published in an album titled Les Bords du Rhin (The Banks of the Rhine). Marville made this self-portrait in the tumbled-down ruins of the Werner Chapel in Bacharach, a town along the Rhine. These Gothic ruins were a popular subject of travel literature and illustration in the 1830s and 1840s.

A year after taking up photography, Marville began to collaborate with the pioneering photographic publisher Louis-Désiré Blanquart-Evrard. Over the next four years Blanquart-Evrard published more than 100 photographs by Marville in albums aimed at an expanding audience of collectors, artists, and “gentleman amateur” photographers. Most of these photographs were landscapes, cityscapes, and architectural views. During this time Marville also worked directly for a number of artists and architects eager for beautiful, highly detailed records of their creations.

From the beginning of his photographic career, Marville gravitated toward producing work in series, for example executing more than 12 different photographs of the École des Beaux-Arts (France’s premier fine-art school), or returning to a site several times to make subtly different views of the same subject. He also explored portraiture and created a number of carefully staged self-portraits, appearing variously as a dandy or a thoughtful connoisseur. Like the adoption of his pseudonym, these natty self-portraits suggest the ambition of an artist of modest origins (he was the son of a tailor and a laundress) who desired to craft a new identity through his work.